Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Immigrants Make America Great

Guest blogger: Barbara Carrasco, law student, University of San Francisco

As my second year of law school comes to an end, I find myself mulling over the implications of learning this country’s immigration laws. The knowledge gained these past two years coupled with almost four years of experience as a paralegal in the field of corporate immigration and a life-time as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, have equipped me with a nuanced perspective that allows me to understand the ways in which our nation’s immigration laws function to maintain a caste system.   

For one, as Mae M. Ngai points out in her book Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, contrary to what Trump and his supporters would like the world to believe, this nation has instituted and enforced a “regime of restriction” since the late nineteenth century (265). Strict numerical limits and a disdain for the plight of migrants coming from the third world have been the hallmark of America’s immigration policy. Considered a step forward in the right direction, the Immigration Act of 1965 put in place a system of quotas that applied evenly to all countries and established preferences for family and occupational-based immigration (Ngai 227). However, the Act of 1965 did more than establish numerical restrictions as a standard aspect of U.S. immigration policy, it also embedded a nationalist agenda into the public discourse on immigration reform.

Nationalism has been defined as “the ideology that privileges the perceived interests of the nation over and against the interests of others” (Ngai 10). To date, President Trump and his administration have made it crystal clear through their immigration enforcement policies that their nationalism depends on the systemic exclusion of those that do not fit the narrative of a white supremacist nation.

In a rally held on June 20, 2018, President Trump was heard speaking to a crowd of his fellow uninformed and racist Americans, saying,

“the Democrats want open borders: ‘Let everybody come in. Let everybody pour in, we don’t care. Let them come in from the Middle East … We don’t care.’ We’re not going to let it happen.”

Today I signed an executive order… We’re going to keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough as it’s been. Democrats don’t care about the impact of uncontrolled migration on your communities, your schools, your hospitals, your safety.” (the Guardian)

The same day, President Trump also said,

“They send people up, remember the original speech, my original speech, they are sending, remember my words, they are sending and they’re not sending their finest, I can tell you and we’re sending them the hell back.” (the Guardian)

These snippets of President Trump’s rhetoric highlight the white nationalist sentiments he means to ignite whenever he finds himself in front of a camera or facing a crowd. Trump’s success is due in large part to his ability to play on the average disenfranchised white or self-hating P.O.C.’s need for personal vindication. Trump’s claim that Democrats advocate open borders is a gross misrepresentation of liberal immigration policy goals. This narrative, however, serves a purpose. Trump’s vilification of the Democratic Party has given his followers the enemy they so badly need to exist in order to justify Trump’s inability to deliver on all the promises he makes.

Moreover, the specific language used, that is, of immigrants who “pour in” to the country, also paints for his followers an image of invasion by dangerous “others” and thus serves to give them the dangerous enemy they need to believe exists in order to justify their unhealthy hatred towards entire communities with whom they typically rarely come in contact with but who they are so inextricably dependent on. Trump paints a grim picture of the effect immigrants have on this country, yet history is replete with evidence that immigrants are in fact what make America great. And contrary to what Trump claimed in his “original speech,” studies have shown that far from sending rapists, immigrants that make it to the U.S. are less likely to commit crimes than U.S. born citizens.

Trump’s rhetoric positions the immigrant worker, the naturalized citizen and the U.S. born offspring of immigrants as eternal outsiders, “alien citizens” in the only land they consider home. The stoking of white nationalist sentiments is Trump’s defining feature in today’s political landscape. While his antics may have gotten him into the White House, his fear-based and backward politics will force America to face the inherent racism on which it has laid its immigration policy. As much as he and his followers may wish immigrants and their descendants would disappear, the reality of the situation is that we are here to stay.

Works Cited


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