Donald Trump is by no means the first US president to racially attack migrants. Phil Marfleet reflects on a complex history which has continually split the establishment between those politicians backing business’s need for cheap labour and those who want to exploit the issue in order to whip up racism.
Events at the US-Mexico border mark another low for Donald Trump. They also remind us of the long record of exploitation and persecution of migrants to the US from Central America. For over 100 years employers north of the border have relied on migrants from the south, drawing in workers indispensable to American capitalism. At the same time US governments have periodically targeted the migrants as aliens, “invaders” and enemies of the wider society, launching campaigns of exclusion like that enacted by Trump and cheered on by the racist Right.