Great Replacement Theory Decoded by Journalists Suarez and Meraji

Ray Suarez and Shereen Marisol Meraji in conversation at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Tuesday. (Ruth Dusseault / Bay City News)

By Ruth Dusseault
Bay City News

Halfway through his June 27 debate with President Joe Biden, former president Donald Trump began to broadcast a conspiracy theory referred in the media as the great replacement.

“Millions of people are pouring into the country! They are putting them on Social Security. They are putting them onto Medicare and Medicaid. They are putting them into our hospitals. They are taking the place of our citizens. I’ve never seen such anger in our country,” Trump said.

Language like this is what propelled veteran journalist Ray Suarez to write his most recent book “We Are Home: Becoming American in the 21st Century, an Oral History” about America’s newest immigrants.

Suarez spoke Tuesday at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, a forum for critical public dialogue. Suarez was joined in conversation by UC Berkeley journalism professor Shereen Marisol Meraji, who was the originating producer and co-host for the top-ranked NPR podcast about race and society, “Code Switch.”

The two American-born journalists interviewed each other in a conversation that drifted back and forth between immigration policy and media criticism. Meraji asked Suarez to talk about to how the great replacement theory had inspired him to write the book.

“It shows the kind of fragility that certain quarters of the American population somehow feel,” Suarez said.

“Great replacement theory works on the premise that secret forces in society, Jews, are gaming immigration law, gaming legislative wheels and flooding the country purposely with nonwhite immigrants in order to replace the white population of the United States,” Suarez said. “Underlying this, or the foundation of it, is the belief that all good things that we have as a country have been made, developed, invented, thought of, advanced, by white people, and that if these pillars of civilization, Americans, are replaced as a percentage of the population, that’s the beginning of the end of America.”

“It’s the idea that people are being cheated out of their birthright, which is to be important, which is to be in charge of this country, which is to know that if we make a line for some goodies that are being given out by society, I’m going to be at the front of the line,” he said.

Meraji questioned whether the media should even pay attention to statements that are absurd or ridiculous. Is the media adding oxygen by talking about them or should we ignore them?

Suarez said that the influence of immigration conspiracy theories is too big for the press to ignore, referencing racially motivated mass shootings in California, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and El Paso.

Meraji talked about the challenges of doing the kind of reporting that’s really needed right now. She wants to see stories that explore the nuances of immigration law. She recalled getting pushback from editors and gatekeepers.

She said that even at NPR, they were not interested in getting into the historical weeds around immigration policy, because it’s complicated, it’s hard to make it interesting and you have a very short amount of time. So, they center on the human interest aspect and ignore the policy bit.

“As a journalist I think we’re really doing our audience a disservice by leaving that out of the conversation. And then we get these national conversations around immigration that go off the rails,” she said.

Suarez was born and raised in Brooklyn during the era of white flight, the subject of one of his books. Suburbs were booming during his childhood in the 1970s, leaving city centers divested and leaving America racially separated along geographical lines.

The historical context for his new book is broader, tying legislation to immigration stories from World War I to Afghanistan.

“From 1924 to 1965, we had a set of laws in place that created quotas that favored Europe. So, if you wanted to come to this country from Europe, you were in pretty good shape. If you wanted to come from anywhere else, it was significantly harder. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act pretty much throws open the door to the rest of the world,” Suarez said, crediting the law for giving us the America we have now.

The 1965 law was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in New York beneath the Statue of Liberty. It created a preference system that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relations with citizens or U. S. residents, forever changing the ethnographic composition of the country.


“Asian immigrants to the United States are the fastest growing category of people moving here from elsewhere on the planet,” said Suarez. “Black Americans may be surprised to find out that, one out of every 10 Black people in the United States is an immigrant.”

When asked just how dark the next chapter in American immigration will get if Trump is elected, Suarez returned to the way people experience society through media.

“I think there are a lot of people who, when they hear of mass deportation, they think, yeah, well, those people are breaking the law. They shouldn’t be here. But when they turn on the TV and see people being dragged into vans by uniformed agents of the state, with a kid standing out on the sidewalk and screaming and crying, it won’t be an abstract principle,” he said. “It is something that Americans could never countenance.”

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Both journalists pointed out the obvious economic arguments to be made about immigration.

“American women are not having many babies,” said Suarez. “We’re not at a replacement level population. I’m going to start taking a Social Security check in a couple of years. Taxes have to be paid by somebody.”

“And somebody needs to take care of our aging population,” Meraji added.

“That’s huge! America is 14% foreign-born, and the home health care workforce of this country is over 50% foreign,” said Suarez. “That means that many people are going to spend the elderly, infirm years of their life in the constant company of someone that they wouldn’t have even lived next door to,” he said. “Yep, that person is going to be there for them, to bathe them, to make sure they take their medicines properly and to cry at their funeral.”

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