In recent years, and especially since Donald Trump legitimized the hatred of others, this is the main sentiment used against undocumented immigrants. Its other name is xenophobia.
Recognized and accepted xenophobia
Its best-known manifestation is the string of insults that Donald Trump issued against immigrants when launching his first presidential candidacy in 2015:
“Mexicans,” he said, as is known, “are sending people who have a lot of problems, they are sending their problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Xenophobia finds its expression in employment, family, housing and civil rights discrimination against immigrants. Some of its forms are known; others not so much. A recent study by the University of Chicago shows that 22% of migrants are employed in private households where employees, mainly women, are subjected to 12-hour shifts without breaks and overtime pay, in addition to other forms of abuse. .
A similar type of discrimination is accepted in the denial of medical care to undocumented immigrants. And when they are attacked, migrants are afraid to file a complaint with the police for fear of being booked and then deported.
But it was not always like this.
The white immigration
It is not that immigrants were not discriminated against in the past. For many years, Italian, Irish, Polish, Jewish immigrants were not even considered “white” by the veteran population. Years passed before they were accepted. But more than hated and persecuted, they were despised and pushed aside.
For most of the country’s independence there was no border police. The controversy was not so decisive. The issue did not divide the country as it does now. There was more division between Catholics and Protestants.
Racism against immigrants started when they started to be brown. And the hatred towards them has been incited for political and economic reasons.
What was the difference? Yes, the color of the skin. The new immigrants, who began to be the majority about 60 years ago, are dark. It is the curse that has fallen on this country, where the color of the skin was used to define, mark and persecute the African slaves.
This hatred as an expression of structural racism is what allowed people who consider themselves merciful or spiritual, family men, good people, to give the order in 2018 to separate the families of asylum seekers at the border, take their children and make them disappear in the maelstrom of bureaucracy and indifference. And those who justified it.
Charles Kawasaki, a Brookings Institute researcher and author of “Immigration Reform: The Undying Corpse,” rightly asks: “When we see images of families and unaccompanied children trying to flee violence in their home countries for a better life Here, one can’t help but wonder if they weren’t from Latin America but white immigrants from Europe, would they be treated differently?
I’m afraid the answer is positive.
Because that is, precisely, structural racism: “A system that treats immigrants differently solely because of their race.” Or in another definition, from the Aspen Institute: “A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various ways, often reinforcing, to perpetuate the inequality of racial groups.”
In practice, his expression is that the punishment received by undocumented Latinos is more severe than that of undocumented whites, for the same offense of entering the country illegally.
In the 1930s and 1940s, there was virtually no immigration enforcement infrastructure. Almost all of the undocumented were pardoned. Until 1976, undocumented parents of US citizens were almost never deported.
And Kamasaki details: “There were no restrictions for immigrants on public benefits until the 1970s, and it was not until 1986 that it became illegal to hire an undocumented immigrant.”
The anti-immigrant change
It is not that Latinos were the only ones discriminated against or persecuted. The Chinese were expelled at the beginning of the 20th century as soon as they finished building the railways. Tens of thousands of families of Japanese-American citizens were internment camps during World War II, but not families of German origin. Africans were enslaved and tortured. And the Native Americans were uprooted from their land and exterminated.
This is how, in the 1960s, Congress put an end to the Bracero plan that had allowed more than 600,000 Mexican workers to work in our country legally in agriculture and reduced the migratory quota from the neighboring country in half.
At the same time, a network of militarized organizations with hundreds of thousands of armed agents developed along the southern border, making illegal immigration more difficult, despite the existence of a 1,951-mile-long porous border.
Furthermore, far fewer resources are dedicated to deporting those who enter our airports legally – instead of being apprehended at the border – and who are almost half of the total, but stay after their tourist visas have expired, and they are mostly white. In fact, 90% of those deported are Latinos.
Since employers are prohibited from hiring undocumented immigrants, they work in marginal jobs, where pay is low and there are no public benefits, even if they pay taxes.
The immigration law of 1965
Between 1920 and 1965, the Immigration Law established quotas that benefited immigrants of a certain race and ethnic group: whites from Europe, and minimized the entry of ethnic groups considered undesirable.
The immigration law of 1965 introduced a strong change in this sense, replacing that criterion by that of family reunification (⅔ of the cases) – which was legislated with the hope that it would multiply the population of European origin – and jobs or skills that the country needed (⅓); this last criterion was reinforced in the 1990 legislation.
As interest in post-war European countries for immigration to the United States declined, immigrants from Latin America and Asia took their place, with the result that we see today of an increase in the proportion of foreign-born and those belonging to the groups of color in the US population.
The more than 65 million immigrants who have entered the country since then “have rejuvenated the country, infused it with diversity and talent, and generated prosperity and economic growth.”
For racists and xenophobes, on the other hand, the result has been negative and the alarming – for them – alternative that whites become the largest minority in the country and not a majority in a couple of decades is now a palpable possibility. Their fight to stop history may be a rear-guard fight, but the damage they do to America’s democratic fabric will be long-lasting and costly.
This article was supported in whole or in part by funds provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library and the Latino Media Collaborative.
Founder and co-editor of Latino Los Angeles. Editor Emeritus of La Opinion, former Editor-in-Chief. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a journalist, columnist, blogger, poet, novelist, and short story writer. Was the editorial director of Huffington Post Voces. Editor-in-chief of the weekly Tiempo in Israel. Is the father of three grown children and lives with Celia and with Rosie, Almendra and Yinyit in Los Angeles.