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Open Letter to President Donald Trump on his Chosen Language to Speak of Immigrants

June 1, 2018
No Human is Illegal

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As members of the Hispanic-Latinx Center, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience, and the Asian/Asian-American Ministries Center of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, we reject Mr. Trump’s statement of May 16, 2018 about immigrants, in which he said that immigrants coming from Central America and Mexico are not people, but animals. Mr. Trump’s characterization of a group of people as subhuman distorts this nation’s moral sense, provides a rationale for mistreating immigrants and other people coded as “other,” and dehumanizes all of us as fellow human beings made in the image of God. As theological educators, we reject this disparaging language as detrimental for the common good of this country and of God’s creation.

Mr. Trump’s exact words, spoken in the context of a roundtable discussion on sanctuary cities, were:

“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in — and we're stopping a lot of them — but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals. And we're taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that's never happened before.”  

Some commentators have argued that Mr. Trump is not calling all immigrants animals but is specifically referring to MS-13 gang members, many of whom have committed crimes. However, Mr. Trump’s statement, placed alongside his previous declarations about people of Latin American and African ancestry, make it clear that he is widely referring to immigrants of color as “animals.”  As theological educators, we reject reference to any human being as less than human, regardless of their actions.

Given that both humans and animals are part of a wider community of living beings alongside all the rest of creation, the fact that to be called an “animal” is an insult, is in itself troubling in light of human abuses of nature and the current ecological crisis. That said, the sense of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric in this context is clear. He is rallying those who listen to him to treat groups of human beings coded as “other” with brutality and arrogance, as if they had no value and were dispensable.

Statements such as these perpetuate and justify hatred, oppression, and violence against human beings created and cherished by God. We are particularly distressed by the fact that Mr. Trump and many of his supporters self-identify as Christian. As Christian theologians, we reject all forms of pejorative language and dehumanizing treatment when referring to human beings. Such language and treatment are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

We call upon all people, whether they identify with the way of Jesus or not, to stand in solidarity with all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, especially those whose skin color makes them more vulnerable to the abuse of those who seek to dehumanize them. We call on all inhabitants of this country categorically to reject dehumanizing discourse such as that of Mr. Trump, since acceptance of such language opens up the way to further abuse and mistreatment of entire swaths of the population of this country.

Hispanic-Latinx Center

  • Débora  B. A. Junker, Director, Assistant Professor Christian Education
  • Nancy E. Bedford, Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology
  • Luis R. Rivera, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean
  • Osvaldo Vena, Professor of New Testament Interpretation
  • Tércio Junker, Dean of the Chapel and Regional Director of Course of Study Program

Center for the Church in the Black Experience

  • Angela R. Cowser, Director, Assistant Professor of the Sociology of Religion
  • Cheryl B. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament
  • Trina Armstrong, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care
  • Reginald Blount, Assistant Professor of Christian Education
  • Gennifer B. Brooks, Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching
  • Larry Murphy, Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity

Asian/Asian-American Ministries Center

  • Wonhee Anne Joh, Director, Professor of Theology and Culture
  • Jaeyon Lucy Chung, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
  • Mai-Anh Le Tran, Associate Professor of Religious Education and Practical Theology
  • K.K. Yeo, Harry R. Kendall Professor of New Testament



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