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LOS ANGELES - A study of language used by Donald Trump, both as candidate and president, is part of an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by 15 state attorneys in favor of the federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The study reveals a clear anti-immigrant sentiment, according to the analysis, titled 'The President's Intent,' by students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The team of more than 35 students at UCLA sought to built a data-based evidentiary case in an attempt to prove that the decision to drop DACA was racially motivated and therefore unconstitutional. The DACA program, which was terminated by the Trump administration in September, protects nearly 800,000 undocumented youth who came to the U.S. when they were minors.
"We look to legal scholars to argue on the basis of "discriminatory intent" and "racial animus," declares the study, which was filed in court last Friday.
The students used cognitive science methodology to dissect the president's sentences and classify key words in order to understand his intentions, an examination of 347 speeches totalling 824,000 words and more than 7,000 Trump tweets. It concluded that the president's words denigrated immigrants and were caustic, hurtful and often false .
Almost all the adjectives and words that Trump used from July 2015 to September 2017 in reference to Hispanic immigrants, and in particular Mexicans, were negative. "criminals," "killers," "wall," "gang members," "rapists" and "drug dealers," were the most popular words in his vocabulary, according to the report.
Trump's rhetoric about immigrants, the analysis found, follows a consistent false narrative of a United States under siege from foreign criminals - mostly Mexican - due to a lack of security on its southern border. He casts Mexico as an enemy with violent criminals, drug cartels, gang members and people smugglers. He also accuses previous administrations of doing little to thwart this catastrophe that only he can bring under control by building a protective wall to 'Make America Great Again.'
" Trump's story about immigrants boils down to just one narrative. It is a complete fiction, a dystopic view of a nation under siege," the study says.
"Trump thinks that the United States is a territory overwhelmed by immigrants and he thinks that the border is open and that they must build another wall because Mexico is invading (the United States) with 'coyotes' and drugs that poison and kill Americans," said Otto Santa Ana , a professor in the Department of Chicano/a Studies at UCLA and coordinator of the study.
The research found that the president's narrative is full of metaphors, which help him spread "a very simple, socially valued and persuasive political message," Santa Ana added.
In one example, Trump talks about the gang MS-13 or Mara Salvatrucha (composed mostly of U.S. citizens), as if they represented all violent gangs and young latinos. In other cases he speaks about the "illegal criminals," when referring to the threat that undocumented immigrants represent (although only 2% of them have been accused of serious crimes).
"There are statements made by Trump that, in my opinion, openly express animosity towards immigrants. That is why this analysis of his speech is important," said Robert Chang, a professor at Seattle University School of Law who worked closely with the UCLA students and filed their study in federal court as part of the legal effort to rescue DACA.
Chang said the Trump narrative is similar to the one used to justify a massive deportation operation of the 1950s called 'Operation Wet Back'. Some historians estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 people of Mexican origin were expelled from the United States during those years, although Trump has cited a far higher number of 1.5 million.
Instead, the professor points out that when former President Barack Obama enacted DACA in 2012 he referred to the Dreamers as "our children," a definition not heard in the Trump White House. "The program was created in the hope that it would be honored by this administration," he concluded.
"My parents came here to give us a better future"
At a modern bookstore in the heart of UCLA, Jazmin De La Torre, a 21-year-old student, listened in amazement to a speech Trump gave last February. She sat down for hours to scrutinize each word uttered by the president, reading between the lines, trying to decipher if they are discriminatory .
"My parents came here to give us a better future," said De La Torre, the daughter of immigrants from Guadalajara, Mexico. Her working class parents could barely afford to send her to elementary school in Mexico. But their efforts paid off when they sent their two oldest children were accepted into one of the most prestigious colleges in California.
"My family came to the United States to work, not to be a burden on the government," said De La Torre who dreams of studying a master's degree and being a counselor. Her year-end exams coincided with her participation in the project 'The President's Intent.'
"I have cousins who unfortunately were not born here and I put myself in their shoes. I imagine how difficult it would be to study in this school and look for a job," says De La Torre.
Beside her, Andrew Cobian, a 23-year-old student reviewed a document on an Excel spreadsheet of Trump's most controversial phrases, with key words in each sentence highlighted; such as "border," "security," "immigration" and "Mexico."
The adjectives kept piling up: "enemy," "lethal," "criminals," "murderers" and "corrupt."
Cobian thinks long and hard when asked which of the president's phrases he dislikes the most. "It's difficult because there's a lot of negative language," he said. After going through his files, he finds two good examples on Twitter: "Mexico was just ranked the second deadliest country in the world," and "We must stop the crime and killing machine that is illegal immigration."
For Evelyn Escobar-Gramajo, who arrived in Los Angeles when she was eight years old from her native Guatemala, the president's messages she reviewed do not reflect the story of my family, and leave a mark on her. She spends her days between UCLA classes and the coffee shop where she works.
"I have seen my parents' efforts. My father gets up at 3 a.m. and comes back home after dark; my mother works as a nanny and house cleaner, and I study and work," she said emphatically.
Cobian has spent up to eight hours a day reviewing the president's words. He is driven by the desire to help his friends who have benefited from DACA. "That language, which is a scare tactic, is designed to appeal to his followers to win their support," he noted.