My boyfriend received a forwarded email from his mother some time ago. The title of the email was “In Just One Year” and it arrived with the comment “So, I thought this was interesting…” The email paints immigrants as criminals and parasites (responses to those accusations can be found in my previous post). Both of her sons were livid when they received it. I can’t imagine that she would have sent the email to her sons had she realized how angry they would be. So what is the disconnect here?
A Short History of Immigration Policy in the United States
Americans have a short historical memory, especially when it comes to immigration policy. We haven’t always had laws against immigration, although I’m sure many Native Americans wish they had thought of it. In fact, the first immigration law wasn’t passed until 1882. Until then, anyone who wanted to immigrate could do so. (I should note that the naturalization laws of 1790 and 1795 restricted citizenship to white people.)
The late 1800s were tumultuous. There was a long depression from 1873 through 1896 and several outright panics. In California, the gold rush was long over and the merchants and railroad barons who had benefited the most were sitting on huge fortunes. The major national railroads were completed and the laborers who had built the railroads (and often died doing it) were no longer needed. Many of those laborers were Chinese.
A worker movement was developing in the face of the tough economic times and the movement took a decidedly ugly, racist turn. (Click here to see a poster from that period telling workers that they should boycott all Chinese businesses or businesses who hired Chinese labor and here for a cartoon demonstrating anti-Chinese sentiment.) Eventually, after much pressure from Californians and considerable violence against Chinese people, the nation passed its very first immigration law. It is known as the Chinese Exclusion Act and it was intended to do just that, exclude people based on their national origin.
As the years went on, further court cases and immigration laws reflected the racism accepted in the United States at the time. Until 1965, when the Johnson administration revamped our immigration laws, they were based on trying to keep the nation as white (ie. Western European) as possible.
The Anti-Immigration Movement is Still Racist
While the target of the anti-immigration movement is now more Mexican than Chinese, the underlying racism remains. If you want proof of the racism in today’s anti-immigration movement, just look at the email that kicked off this reply. One of the sources used by the author was the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
FAIR was founded by John Tanton, a man who has said that the fight against immigration is a fight to keep white control. Tanton also founded The Center for Immigration Studies, another source used by the author. See this enlightening (and disturbing) article about the connections between white supremacists and anti-immigration groups for more information.
Tom Tancredo is another source from the emails. Tancredo was called an “idiot” by the (conservative) National Review and voted one of the 10 worst congressmen by the (not so conservative) Rolling Stone. Although the grandson of Italian immigrants, he wants to stop even legal immigration. He also took a bit of heat for accusing the Catholic Pope of trying to increase membership in the Catholic church by encouraging immigration and for referring to Miami as a “third world country.”
And while it takes all of five minutes to discover that the above sources are (at minimum) linked to some very nasty hate groups, the mainstream news regularly calls on them to comment. They never ask on air about their qualifications, sources, or methodology. They never explain to the audience who they are or what their philosophy is. So if some people believe these statistics to be true and remain blissfully unaware of the reaction they might get when spreading them, it is somewhat understandable.
But while many non-Latinos may believe the “experts” provided by the media, Latinos personal experiences with racism in this country leave them skeptical of even the more mild arguments for changing our immigration policies. This is not just a matter of hurt feelings. According to 2007 FBI statistics, hate crimes against Latinos rose 35% between 2003 and 2007. Not all of the victims survive, including 25 year old Luis Ramirez who was beaten to death by several teenagers.
Beginning a Conversation About Immigration
After a bit of research, I was able to find the original post of the article “In Just One Year.” It was written by an ultra-conservative woman named Carolyn Hileman and published on the American Conservative Daily. Google Carolyn Hileman and one of the links you will find is a site called “Mexicans Go Home.”
I hate to add to the click rate on that trash site, but it’s one of the most disgusting examples of the hateful, anti-Mexican core of the anti-immigration movement. I felt like I had to expose it. In one post, the site has a Mexican flag where the eagle and serpent have been replaced by a pile of shit. Across the flag it says “Mexico, Land of Shit and Druglords”
We need to be able to speak about immigration, but we won’t be able to do it until the hateful fringe elements stop being treated like legitimate sources for non-biased information. People have to stop spreading information without first identifying who it came from (or at least identifying that it may not be true) and we can’t allow our media to do it either.