Implications of the Trump Administration for Latin American Geography (July 2017)

John C. Finn, Christopher Newport University

Beginning with his announcement of his Presidential candidacy, Donald Trump’s campaign rested on a foundation of racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant hysteria. Now several months into his presidency, he’s attempting to deliver on his promises. The Department of Homeland Security is accepting bids for the first phase of “the wall,” the administration’s attack on sanctuary cities has commenced, the notoriously anti-immigrant Attorney General Jeff Sessions is attempting to expand the role of the Justice Department in immigration enforcement, and the stories of deportations and deportation raids are increasingly troubling.
These and other actions have provoked a call-to-action among a wide variety of groups. The Latin America Specialty Group (LASG) and the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers (CLAG) felt a need for Latin American and Latin Americanist geographers to come together and discuss how we could, should, and frankly must respond to the Trump Administration’s executive actions and legislative priorities. To that end, we organized a special panel session during the 2017 annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers to explore how our research, teaching, public engagement, and activism can be mobilized in response to the Trump agenda. This forum is the result of that panel discussion.

As Anne-Marie Hanson and I wrote recently in the introduction to the Journal of Latin American Geography’s special issue on critical geographies in Latin America (Finn and Hanson 2017), knowledge and the production of knowledge are not, and have never been, either objective or apolitical. David Harvey wrote in 1974:

Critical scholarship exposes the arti ciality of the separation between fact and value and shows that the claim of science to be ideology free is itself an ideological claim. The debate over relevance in geography was not really about relevance...but about whom our research was relevant to and how it was that research done in the name of science (which was supposed to be ideology-free) was having effects that appeared some- what biased in favour of the status quo and in favour of the ruling class of the corporate state (Harvey 1974: 23).

Howard Zinn got at this idea somewhat more concisely in his 1994 autobiography, writ- ing that “‘you can’t be neutral on a moving train’... events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that” (Zinn 1994: 8). That is, hiding behind “objectivity” and “neutrality” in both our scholarship and teaching is to acquiesce to deeply politically and ideologically driven agendas masquerading as simple, neutral, and objective “facts.” This is becoming increasingly clear far beyond critical academic circles, from “alternative facts” to the mainstreaming of climate denialism, from the defunding of science agencies and the muzzling of government scientists to the promotion to leading government positions of individuals whose policy and ideological positions overwhelmingly align with the interests of capital and y in the face of decades of academic research and understanding (e.g. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, among many others).

The implications of this corrupt, cynical, and apparently incompetent administration are widespread to all areas of academic study, and all places and spaces within the U.S. and beyond its borders.

To that end, this forum specifically aims to explore the implications of the Trump administration on Latin America and Latin American(ist) geography. In his contribution, Austin Kocher writes of his recent research and activism surrounding immigrant organizing strategies in this (not-so-new) era of deportation. In their essays, both Margath Walker and Nancy Hiemstra focus on U.S. border policy. Hiemstra argues for re-conceptualizing borders as displacing migration rather than deterring it, and in doing opening up whole new avenues of research. Similarly, Walker argues that we should think of the U.S.-Mexico border as a system of simultaneous continuity and discontinuity, which will complicate notions of borders and migration both to us as scholars and (importantly) to our students. In her essay, Mónica Farías explores the parallels in the anti-immigrant discourses of Trump and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri. In her contribution, Carolyn Gal- laher analyzes the implications of the Trump administration on the Mérida Agreement, fearing that the administration will make worse what is already bad about the agreement, and will weaken other aspects that actually seem to be working as designed. Finally, Yolan- da Valencia evocatively captures the human toll not only of changes in policy surrounding immigration, but also—especially—the normalization of increasingly dehumanizing anti- immigrant discourses.

As the contributors to this JLAG Perspectives Forum rightly identify, we can not af- ford to distance ourselves from the daily political realities that directly impact our research participants, collaborators, and students, not to mention our colleagues, friends, neigh- bors, and families. If we are to have a more engaged and nuanced understanding of Latin America then we must challenge normative understandings of the border, citizenship, and community. These articles are valuable contributions to the ongoing conversation about JLAG Perspectives Forum 165 how research, teaching, public engagement, and activism could and should be more critical and critically engaged in the age of Trump.

Finn, J.C. and A-M. Hanson. 2017. Critical Geographies in Latin America. Journal of Latin American Geography 16 (1): 1-15.
Harvey, D. 1974. What kind of geography for what kind of public policy? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 63: 18-24.
Zinn, H. 1994. You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Boston: Beacon Press.

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