The Racism of Immigration Politics
The Disappearing Majority
As the United States grapples with the morality of an immigration system that allows the destruction of families at the border or in their American homes, it's important to understand what lies at the foundation of our politics on the issue. A narrative was painted years ago and subconscious biases have been reinforced by ongoing rhetoric, labels, and lies that cast a broad stroke on a people whose growing population signals a change in the cultural landscape of this country.
In an analysis of the annual census, William H Frey, of the Brookings Institution, believes that, by the year 2045 the white population in America will be the minority. And by the year 2020 minority youth(black, Hispanic, Asian, etc) under the age of 18 will out number white youth of the same age. For a segment of the US population, this is seen as a direct threat to their very existence. When in fact, it is the direct result of the natural assimilation this same demographic demands in their anti-immigration rhetoric.
During an alt-right gathering on November 20, 2016, celebrating Donald Trump's victory, white-nationalist speaker Richard Spencer said, "America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us."
Spencer represents a small portion of the American population. But this portion is large enough to earn dog-whistle rhetoric from our politicians that a larger segment of the white population has accepted and used to paint an inaccurate picture of what America really is. Otherwise sensible conservatives, repeat loaded phrases like the KKK's "America First" or George Wallace's "Law and Order," when attempting to rationalize social injustices imposed on minority communities.
For decades, words like criminal and illegal were attached to the word alien so much, they are now synonymous to immigrants crossing our southern border. Over the past few years the rhetoric has become increasingly vile and damaging, not to mention politically powerful. Donald Trump began his presidential campaign claiming "Mexico is not sending us their best, they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." And for the entirety of his campaign and most of the first year of his presidency, the chant "build the wall" was the rallying cry of his base during rallies.
His voter's position on immigration was clear. It didn't end with the rallies. His rhetoric leading up to and after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement of the "Zero Tolerance Policy," which led to the separation of children from their parents at the border as a deterrent, included statements referring to immigrants as animals. He followed that up with a presidential tweet stating Democrats "don't care about crime" and want immigrants "to pour into and infest our country," while likening all undocumented immigrants to "MS-13" (June 19, 2018).
Falsely inflating the number of MS-13 caught at the border, and constantly attaching the name to immigrants helped the president justify the need to be "tough on the border." On the other hand, Border Patrol has stated that less than 1% of immigrants detained at the border are potential MS-13 gang members.
The labeling of a group of people dehumanizes them. It allows cruel and inhumane acts to be seen as necessary and acceptable. It makes it more difficult for a disconnected society to empathize with a people that have been deemed inferior and different. They are described legally as aliens. It is common to refer to human beings as "illegals." All in an effort to provide comfort and safety.
As Richard Spencer stated in Facing the Future as a Minority, "For us, immigration is a proxy for race. In that way immigration can be good or bad: it can be a conquest (as it seems now)...or a European in-gathering. It all depends on the immigrants. And we should open our minds to the possibilities of Mass immigration from the white world."
Pew Research Center estimates that there are approximately 500,000 white undocumented immigrants from Europe living in the United States: Always in fear of deportation, but rarely threatened with it. Like most undocumented-Mexican immigrants they arrived on a visa, and stayed after it expired.
"White Europeans have some significant advantages over undocumented immigrants of color...They are safe from racial profiling, discrimination, and viscous invective that other immigrant groups often experience." (Arvind Dilawar, January 9, 2017 Gothamist.com)
How are these immigrants any different, if not for skin color? We as a country lack a general understanding of the subject. This dehumanization is fueled by dishonesty and lies. Listen to just about any anti-immigrant argument and you will, sooner than later, hear the untruths created by the racist politics behind immigration. Bill Clinton claimed "All Americans...are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants."
Statistically immigrants are more likely to start business and create jobs than US born citizens, and as "Brookings Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown explains in her new Brookings Essay, 'The Wall'...'the impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low...However, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do.'" (Brookings Now August 24, 2017, Brennan Hoban)
Lies feeding the Ignorance
Immigrants are believed to be "overrunning our country," or "pouring" over the border, when, in fact apprehensions of people crossing the border are at their lowest level since 1971. While border patrol agents paroling the border is at an all-time high (U.S. border and customs protection, 2017 Border Security Report). According to Pew Research, net migration with Mexico is at a negative since 2009. Meaning more people are moving to Mexico than are arriving from Mexico. The majority of immigrants entering the country from the southern border are people seeking asylum from Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. If there is a country on this planet that has the financial and geographic means to support immigration, not to mention the obligation, it is the United States. That is how this country was built, and, to the dismay of many Americans, how it continues to grow.
The idea that immigrants bring crime is also baseless. It is true that some of the most dangerous cities in the world, like Tijuana and Cd. Juarez, sit on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border. But it is also a fact that some of America's safest cities like San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas lie on the border of those same cities. Using FBI databases, San Diego was found to be the safest of the 20 largest cities in the United States, while Safewise Security awareness Company found El Paso to be the 2nd safest city in the U.S. with a population of 300,000 or more. Additionally, undocumented immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes in America than native born citizens, and "the presence of large numbers of immigrants seems to lower the crime rate." (2015 National Academy of Science Study)
When it comes to drugs being seized at the border, "the most recent statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) show that narcotics seizures have fallen across the entire border with Mexico this year (2016)." Rafael Carranza, writer for The Republic and AZCentral.com reported on February 28th, 2018, that "Border agents and officers confiscated less drugs overall at the US-Mexico border last year." The DEA also stated that almost all drugs confiscated at the border are confiscated at the ports of entry, contradicting a common rhetorical reason for building the wall.
Lies like these feed the appetite to attack and fear "the other." The fear that they will overrun our country, take our American jobs, rape our American women, and murder our American men. What is an American man, woman or job?
Historically, American leadership has determined what it really means to be American: skin color. We label Black-Americans as African-Americans, Brown Americans as Mexican-American or Asian-American, we even labeled the original Americans as Native-American. What do we call our white citizens? Its not European Americans. We call them Americans.
We want immigrants crossing the southern border to assimilate. Consider what that might mean. There are Spanish speaking American families living in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California whose ancestors never crossed the Mexican border. Their families lived on that land before "the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo" in 1848, when these states became U.S. territories, and some before the United States was a country. There are entire communities, if not cities in the southwest where English is the second language. If assimilation suggests building businesses, paying taxes and contributing to the economy, then there is no argument. Immigrants are doing this. The argument arises when assimilation means becoming the same. Becoming American as it pertains to a politically powerful demographic. If it means becoming white.
The Center for American Progress, in 2010, reported that Latin American immigrants assimilate just as well, if not quicker than European immigrants did in the past. Immigration politics is not about assimilation. It is not about the law. It is about race, and how politicians have used racial rhetoric, labels and lies to criminalize and dehumanize a people. Now, a chunk of the American population cannot empathize with these people because of the color of their skin.
People are dying in the Arizona desert. Children have been separated from their families when seeking asylum on the border, families are torn apart in American neighborhoods by deportation, and young people are being threatened with deportation to countries they don't know because they were brought to this country without documents as children. This cruelty is only possible if you can't imagine that it could happen to you.
A small segment of our population has dictated the rhetoric of a conversation, that misinforms an electorate responsible for the mistreatment of millions. The United States of America is a country of immigrants, and may be the country best fit to reap the rewards of an inclusive immigration system. Unfortunately, ignorance breeds the fear that flames the racism behind too much of our politics.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Raul Sierra Jr