Live from New York, a racist piece of shit

November 11, 2015

Saturday Night Live was hoping for big ratings by having Donald Trump host, but as Lupita Romero reports, the show instead faced a spirited protest against Trump's hate.

FOR LOTS of people in New York City, the Saturday Night Live (SNL) episode hosted by Donald Trump was no laughing matter. Almost 400 rallied outside of the NBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza hours before the much-anticipated show went on the air, demanding through their chant that the network "Dump Trump!"

The protest was called by the ANSWER Coalition in collaboration with immigrant rights groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, Make the Road NY, America's Voice, the Hispanic Federation, the National Institute for Latino Policy, the New York State Leadership Council, and DREAM Teams from New York University and Lehman College, among many others.

The rally drew a diverse crowd of immigrant workers and students who carried signs mocking SNL and Trump. There was even a Trump piñata that all too many demonstrators were eager to beat to a pulp.

Although the rally was energized and lively throughout the night--with protesters chanting "Live from New York! A racist piece of shit!"--the seriousness of the issue bringing people together wasn't lost on anyone.

Protesting Donald Trump's hosting of Saturday Night Live
Protesting Donald Trump's hosting of Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live writers and executives might have wanted to get in on the joke that is Trump's shallow campaign and boost their ratings in the process. But whatever their reasoning, the move to have a vile bigot host the show, despite sustained protest against it, has outraged Latino and immigrant communities, who know too well that Trump's racist rhetoric isn't a joke, and that his political positions on ramping up deportations and reinforcing an already militarized border are definitely not a game.

During the protest, activists chanted, "How do you spell racist? S-N-L! How do you spell sellout? S-N-L!" to point to NBC's hypocrisy for allowing Trump to host the show a few months after dropping its contract with the billionaire in response to his comments characterizing Mexican (and all Latinx) immigrants as "killers and rapists."

For Isaac Morales of East Harlem, the network's decision to keep Donald Trump "has a lot to do with capitalist culture of the United States of America, allowing [hateful rhetoric] to permeate the minds of thousands of people watching because they are going to get a lot of money for it."

"A lot of people [whether they agree with his comments or not] are going to watch it because they want to see what he says," said Vincent of Queens. "But it's not funny, and it's not really about freedom of speech. It's just hatred."

As Vincent predicted, the Trump episode did enjoy the highest ratings for SNL since 2012, despite a Congressional Hispanic Caucus statement in opposition to the network's decision, national calls for a boycott of the show and a "dump Trump" petition that garnered more than 200,000 signatures.

LATINX ADVOCATES across the country described SNL's invitation to Trump as tone-deaf, revealing the show's disconnect from a growing Latinx audience that has yet to be embraced by it. In fact, only two Latino cast members--Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen--and 11 Latinx hosts have graced the set of SNL in all of its history.

For Susena Zuniga, a New York University film student from Texas, this lack of diversity is "what's contributing to their decision to have Trump on tonight. If someone like George Lopez were on the cast, they probably wouldn't have him."

Having moved out of Rio Grand Valley, Texas, a border town that is 80 percent Latinx, with 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Susena said that Trump's comments have real consequences. "He is normalizing [anti-immigrant sentiment]," she said, "and therefore legitimizing politician's moves to take away immigrants' rights."

In the last year, several counties in Texas--including Rio Grande, Dallas and Austin--have denied birth certificates for U.S.-born children if their immigrant parents can't present certain documents of identification. County officials are no longer accepting foreign passports or consulate-issued ID cards, although they are allowed to under state law.

Across the street from the protesters, Trump did garner some supporters--numbering at almost five people--who continuously chanted "Pass Kate's Law!" For the immigrant activists present, that crowd, although small, only reinforced the sense of criminalization of immigrants that Trump is fostering across the country.

Last October, Senate Republicans--including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio--pushed a bill that would have effectively ended "sanctuary city" policies across the country by withholding federal grants from states that refuse to fully cooperate with ICE enforcement programs.

Included in the bill was "Kate's Law"--named after a San Francisco woman who was killed by an immigrant--which imposes a mandatory five-year prison sentence on all undocumented immigrants re-entering the country.

The bill, which was ultimately defeated, was labeled the "Donald Trump Act" by critics who saw it as an opportunistic attempt by Republican presidential candidates to follow the anti-immigrant trail that had been blazed by the frontrunner Trump.

Outside NBC studios, protesters combatted the small crowd's scapegoating sentiments by chanting, "We are not criminals, we are workers!" and "Don't give in to racist fear, immigrants are welcome here!''

One of the most popular chants--"Stop interviewing racists!"--was directed at the television reporters who spent more time with the handful of pro-Trump counter-protesters than the hundreds of anti-Trump demonstrators.

TRUMP'S RACIST comments criminalizing all immigrants have been taken as unacceptable hate speech by many media commentators and politicians, but the fact is that the country's immigration policy as advocated by both Republicans and Democrats rests on the same issue of criminality to justify mass deportations.

Although Barack Obama has never outright accused all immigrants of being criminals, he has pioneered some of the most draconian immigration enforcement programs in the country's history and deported thousands for civil violations as small as jumping train turnstiles.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and Congressional Hispanic Caucus members blasted NBC's invitation to Trump, but Ellin Jimmerson of the Huffington Post noted an important contradiction:

The problem is that he, Gutiérrez, and America's Voice, the powerful immigrant advocacy organization which also has protested Trump's appearance on SNL, and others on the left [also] vigorously push "securing the border" against poor, displaced Hispanic workers via further border militarization, extending a system of indentured servitude and human trafficking to Hispanic and other poor laborers via the guest worker program, and a so-called path to citizenship which requires at the outset that an unauthorized immigrant turn him or herself in to the very department officially oriented to their deportation--the Department of Homeland Security.

Similarly, the main Democratic candidates for the presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, defend continuing this pattern of immigration enforcement--minus Trump's hateful rhetoric, of course.

THE SWELL of protest against Trump's hosting of Saturday Night Live--from the rally to the petitions to the boycotts endorsed by famed Latino actors, reminded the country for a night of the potential of the immigrant rights movement to fight back against xenophobia.

But the defensive nature of the protest and the reality that the show did in fact go on--and get high ratings--is also a reminder of the setbacks that the immigrant movement has faced in the Obama years.

The long list of losses includes: a failed immigration reform; implementation of a new Priority Enforcement Program that has led to ICE home raids across major states like Illinois, New York and California; a federal bed quota mandate for detention centers to keep up enforcement; and, more recently, a decision by a federal appeals court to delay implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens.

The Republicans might make threats, but the Democrats make false promises, and both are responsible for the terrible current policies. Now, talk of immigration reform isn't even on the table anymore, even as advocates continue to fight back against a ramped-up deportation machinery, and hundreds of detainees in Texas and California launch hunger strikes inside detention centers to bring attention to the inhumane conditions.

If anything good is to be taken from Trump's hosting of SNL, it's perhaps that it briefly united many organizations and activists who realize that the struggle for immigrant rights is far from over.

If we can learn from our mistakes and continue to gather our forces to protest the deportation machinery, we could see the resurgence of an immigrant rights movement that can effectively challenge the 2016 candidates from both parties on their continuing criminalization of immigrants, and begin to put an end to the ongoing separation of millions of families.

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