A Response to Alexander J. Cullen’s “In Support of the Immigration Ban” published in the Harvard Crimson on February 19, 2017

I commend Mr. Cullen’s satirical editorial recently published in The Crimson for challenging all Americans who defend the remaining rotting columns of white supremacy to face the mirror and consider our place on this land’s past, present, and future. His piece can be read here: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2017/2/22/alexander-cullen-in-support-of-the-immigration-ban/

Read plainly, Mr. Cullen argues that Trump’s travel ban is necessary to protect American freedom from people in the seven banned countries who threaten our values from beyond our borders. Though people may “travel to the United States to partake in our democratic tradition—and even serve in our military,” he argues, “due caution is necessary to protect our solid ground of liberty from anyone who fundamentally opposes it.” This, told through the lens of Pedro Salsedo who arrived in the Americas on Columbus’ voyage of 1492. Ironic—I know.

Although difficult, at first, to recognize as satire, if you follow his arguments closely, you’ll realize that he never intended for us to consider his notions seriously. First, Mr. Cullen references Salsedo, his ancestor on the Santa Maria who traveled with Columbus to Puerto Rico in 1492. But a cursory web search reveals that Columbus did not visit Puerto Rico in 1492 and the Santa Maria ran aground in Haiti before venturing as far east as PR.[1] So what is Mr. Cullen getting at, if not signaling to the reader that she should treat with skepticism his remaining positions?

He continues, “There is no mistake the promise and opportunity that this continent, and particularly these United States, offers to those who dwell here.” Here, I ask, is there a mistake? I’ve learned that normative positions are red flags begging for critical analysis. So why doesn’t Mr. Cullen mention those millions of people who occupied the land before European expansion? Is it because, in his ignorance, Mr. Cullen merely overlooked them? Or is it deliberate? So the reader realizes that he overlooked them for effect, and, in fact, hopes to emphasize their/our existence?[2] This is important because, if his intent is the latter, then he challenges the reader to consider how Native peoples were the first from whom “promise and opportunity” were ripped. And that promise and opportunity continues to be ripped from those resilient communities who still organize, not because of, but in spite of the tenets of American democracy.

Before moving on from an argument rooted in the experiences of indigenous peoples, Mr. Cullen identifies our ironic deference to the ideals of freedom. Ironic, I say—and I believe his is a position of irony as well—because those very people whom we divorced from their land have endured, but survived, a cultural genocide that criminalized studying and engaging their own indigenous cultures. I will not lay out the prolonged history and enduring legacies of Native American boarding schools—but you should look them up. You really, really should.

I love, I absolutely LOVE, Mr. Cullen’s second point. He masterfully uses examples of radical Islam to then critique Christians who espouse the exact.same.beliefs. I did not click on his links because, of course, they will direct the reader to Dylann Roof, who mercilessly murdered Christians in prayer[3]. Or perhaps the neo-Nazis who, as they propelled DJT to the American presidency[4], professed a devotion to anti-Semitism and white supremacy through xenophobia and over-policing in communities of color. This, keeping in mind that victims of terrorism rooted in Islamist rhetoric (and reactions against American occupation and historically expropriated resources) are overwhelmingly people who themselves observe and practice Islam. Mr. Cullen—you’re a genius!

And then he does it for the women! Make no mistake, Mr. Cullen is a feminist—using examples of violence against women around the world to emphasize misogyny at home. He demands that Americans reconcile our disdain for sexism (i.e. normalized sexual harassment & assault, lack of access to meaningful reproductive health, unfair pay scales, etc.) with electing a sexual predator as president[5]; depriving the trans community of basic human dignity[6]; and police coercing sex from young women of color[7]. He ends, “The bystanders who fail to condemn these practices commit no lesser sin . . . [and] to deny this conclusion signifies either ignorance of atrocity or arrogance in refusing to recognize it.” Correct. He is absolutely correct.

I do, however, disagree with one of Mr. Cullen’s basic points. “President Trump’s policies are not against Muslims,” he argues, “as 87% of the world’s Muslims . . . remain unaffected by the ban.” I wonder if perhaps he has applied the same logic to terrorism and Islam? An argument along the lines of, “Islam is not a religion that espouses terrorism and violence,” because, “X percent of the world’s Muslims do not practice violence and terrorism,” seems logical.

Moving along, Mr. Cullen arrives at the conclusion that progressives have wrestled with for years when he correctly points out that the travel ban has origins in the Obama administration. I hope to God that that argument doesn’t fall flat. The challenge of convincing people that the problem is beyond just a rejection of DJT is very real and often a difficult conversation to have. Obama’s promise to deport “felons not families”[8] paved the way for the current pattern of first criminalizing then deporting undocumented people. Thank you, Mr. Cullen, for drawing attention to a critical understanding of social justice and progressivism.

Beyond the travel ban, Mr. Cullen doesn’t really dwell on the current immigration system. He makes no mention of undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America and, once more, I wonder: is it on purpose? Perhaps the Puerto Rican night guard is a sign post for Mr. Cullen’s true position? The night guard, no doubt, holds status because in the early 20th century the United States expanded through forceful political control. Which, in turn, meant opening its borders to the people under its control. The modern framework, however, is more creative because it derives power from capital—not force—and disentangles citizenship from colonization. This leaves those fleeing from violence and destitution in the Americas—El Salvador[9], Honduras[10], Guatemala[11], Colombia[12], Mexico[13], Nicaragua[14], Haiti[15]—as victims of American foreign policy[16], without enjoying any of its benefits. In referring to Puerto Rico, then, Mr. Cullen calls on America to complete the project and thus grant citizenship to everyone arriving from countries with undoubted American influence.

If, however, we are to accept each of Mr. Cullen’s arguments at face value, then I’d encourage everyone victimized by white supremacy and settler colonialism to Venmo request reparations from him. After all, Mr. Cullen pointed out that he can trace his ancestors to the very first perpetrators of a genocide that we still have neither rectified nor reckoned with.


Marco Roberto Castanos, JD ‘18, is a second year student at Harvard Law School. He organizes with Reclaim Harvard Law. While the views expressed in this article are the author’s own, they may reflect the opinions of numerous readers who came across Mr. Cullen’s article, rolled their eyes, and said, “not today–not today.”

[1] http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/latinamericatheconquest/p/Columbusfirst.htm

[2] I say “their/our” not to appropriate any experience I have not endured, but rather to recognize the complicated aspects of a Latin American identity composed and shaped by interculturalism and genocide. So the reader knows, I have not tested my genetic make-up but, after doing so, will certainly assume such a perspective from a more informed point of view. If you want to sponsor my genetic test, Venmo me.

[3] https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/5/headlines/charleston_dylann_roof_unrepentant_for_emanuel_ame_church_massacre

[4] https://www.democracynow.org/2016/3/4/is_donald_trump_the_charismatic_leader

[5] https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/14/the_predatory_mindset_of_donald_trump

[6] https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/23/headlines/trump_administration_reverses_protections_for_transgender_students

[7] https://www.democracynow.org/2016/6/21/police_department_or_frat_house_3

[8] http://www.npr.org/2016/11/01/500264042/immigration-advocates-challenge-obamas-felons-not-families-policy

[9] https://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/17/us_turns_back_on_child_migrants

[10] https://www.democracynow.org/2016/7/29/eat_pray_starve_greg_grandin_on

[11] https://www.democracynow.org/1999/3/1/u_s_role_in_genocide_in

[12] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Colombian-Companies-Charged-for-Crimes-Against-Humanity–20170204-0010.html

[13] https://www.democracynow.org/2016/6/22/struggling_for_our_lives_gustavo_esteva

[14] https://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/11/worst_of_the_american_spirit_advocates

[15] https://www.democracynow.org/2011/3/30/haitians_deported_from_the_us_held

[16] https://www.thenation.com/article/how-uss-foreign-policy-created-immigrant-refugee-crisis-its-own-southern-border/