It’s about Race Stupid
The debate about immigration has everything to do with race and the future of our country.
I’ve been part of the immigrant rights movement for the last 20 years. I came to the cause believing I was standing up for my Mexican immigrant mother and undocumented family and friends. But by believing that, I failed my community.
For years, I made the critical mistake of believing I was acting in solidarity with immigrants, not on my own behalf. I had believed the right-wing rhetoric that I was not the target of their legislation, their immigration sweeps and their rules barring immigrants from social services. I believed legislators when they said immigrants were their sole target. After all I thought, how could I be a target? I was a U.S. citizen, born in this country. I was more American than Mexican. I grew up listening to Alanis Morissette, eating pizza and hamburgers, and reading books by Judy Blume. But the second I believed that I wasn’t a target of the anti-immigrant right, I let them win.
I failed to see that many Republicans were attacking immigrants because they were afraid our country was changing. They were afraid that soon we would become a nation where people of color made up the majority. And the pathway they saw to blocking that from happening was by stopping immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia from coming to the U.S. through safe and legal means.
What is the immigration debate really about?
What I failed to see was that the debate about immigration wasn’t actually about jobs, the rule of law or green cards. It wasn’t about whether immigrants were good for the economy, worked hard or committed more crimes than other Americans - because the facts proved otherwise:
Today, immigrants and their children like me make up 27% of the U.S. population, and the majority of us are people of color, with Mexicans making up the largest share. One in four U.S. immigrants are from Mexico, and Latinos as a whole make up 45% of American immigrants. Estimates indicate that by 2044 people of color will make up the majority in the U.S. In the nation’s two most populous states, California and Texas, people of color already are the majority.
Perhaps no state is more emblematic of the challenges and failures of the immigration debate than Texas. We are a state of 28 million people, whose growth has been fueled in large part by a young and growing Latino population. In Texas, Latinos make up nearly 40% of the states’ population and 62% are immigrants or the children of immigrants. By 2030, Latinos will be the majority in the Lone Star State; however, we are still treated like second class people.
Our numbers haven’t translated into respect, protections or equal rights for our community. Quite contrarily, Latinos and immigrants have become a target of Republicans at the state and local level. After all, Texas led the charge to stop DAPA and is leading the legal fight to overturn DACA, which benefits 120,000 Texans. In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed SB4, the most far reaching anti-immigrant and anti-Latino law in the country. It legalized racial profiling, turned local law enforcement into a mass deportation force and in its original form, even allowed for local democratically elected leaders to be sanctioned and removed from office simply for speaking in opposition (since its passage two federal courts have ruled that portion of the law unconstitutional). Most recently, hundreds of U.S. citizen Latinos in Texas were denied passports by the federal government, which is illegally calling into question the citizenship of thousands of Americans of Mexican descent.
At its core, anti-immigrant sentiment is racially motivated
Today, it is hard to discern the comments of avowed White Supremacists from those running the White House and the Texas Capitol. White Supremacists like Richard Spencer and KKK leader David Duke have been leading the charge to end migration from Latin America, Asia and Africa to maintain the white majority and their supremacy in the United states.
Spencer says, “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, something like White Zionism. It all depends on the immigrants. And we should open our minds to the positive possibilities of mass immigration from the White world.”
And David Duke has stated “Trump has been a promoter of European people, when he says he prefers immigrants from Norway instead of Haiti, he is telling a fundamental truth: the demographic change we face isn’t just with immigration, it’s with the birth-rates of immigrants. This could change the voting demographics in just a few years.”
Thus, it is no surprise that Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign criminalizing and targeting Mexican immigrants. He was speaking directly to a portion of the Republican base that is determined to take our country backwards and deny people of color their rights as full American citizens. Richard Spencer, Donald Duke, and Donald Trump don’t just fear people like my 62 year-old immigrant mother, they also fear me - her U.S. citizen daughter - who can vote and believes that our government needs to change and represent the needs of a diverse America, not a bigoted minority.
Those in power who fear embracing the diverse America we are becoming want to turn Americans against one another by fomenting hate against immigrants and communities of color. They want us to believe that white Americans are incapable of coexisting with people of color. They are wrong. Diversity is our strength, especially here in Texas. Immigrants of color have helped make our state culturally, economically, and diversely rich.
Immigrants like 31 year old DREAMer and Mexican immigrant Alonzo Guillen who died during hurricane Harvey when he set out in his boat to rescue Texans in need.
Indian Doctors Pankaj Satija and his wife Dr. Monika Ummat who have spent the last 15 years raising their children and serving patients with special neurological needs in Houston, Texas - providing critical care to thousands of Texans. But in March of 2017, they were told by ICE they had 24 hours to leave the U.S., even as the state faces a shortage in trained medical professionals
Bryan Thuc Tran and wife Yen Tran, owners of The Point restaurant in Palacios, Texas who were featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” Bryan and Yen are Vietnamese immigrants that came to Texas in 1975 as refugees. They are two of the millions of immigrant business owners in Texas. In the Lone Star State, immigrant-run businesses account for 30% of all new businesses in the state.
While our nation has benefited from the rich diversity of immigrants and much of our growth has been sustained by immigrants and their children, some in power refuse to see immigrant children of color as equally as American - no matter how many generations we have been here.
Stand with Immigrants
For those of us that believe our country should be a place that welcomes people from all walks of life and that we should refuse to go back to a time where we openly discriminated against people based on the color of their skin - we need to start changing how we talk about immigration.
We must start talking about race and civil rights. We must understand that the attacks on immigrants, whether they be attempts to undercount immigrants and their children in the U.S. census or to strip naturalized citizens of their citizenship (the Trump administration recently launched a new “denaturalization task force” aimed at stripping the citizenship of thousands of immigrants), are all weapons of voter suppression and tools of a bigoted minority. Tools like poll taxes, literacy tests, and voter ID rules - focused on suppressing the power of the black vote - are sadly not new to our country and why it is so critical to remain vigilant in fighting policies and actions that deny the right to vote to individuals based on race or ethnicity.
Understanding that the debate on immigration is about the dignity of people of color, and voting and the power to determine a new direction for our country forces us to recognize that we are fighting to defend one of the most important and hard won battles in U.S. history - the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The 14th Amendment, which solidified the right of birthright citizenship, was crafted in the aftermath of the legacy of slavery and our nation’s long history of failing to recognize the full human rights of black Americans. We are facing nothing less than a renewed battle over the 14th Amendment, and if we lose this next battle, millions of people of color will lose the power to vote.
For those of us that are Latinos in the Lone Star State, we must recognize that whether we are undocumented, children of immigrants or fifth generation Tejanos, we are all in this together. To the current powers that be, it does not matter how many generations our families have been here or whether we didn’t cross the border, but it crossed us - we will never be fully American in their eyes. To win our community the full rights and dignity that all Americans deserve, we need to start talking about what this fight is really about and start using the power of our vote to determine a new direction for our nation while we still have the power of the ballot box.