Immigration, Nativism, and the 2016 Election, Part II

Juan Mora-Torres Publicado 2016-11-07 10:46:50

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton


Trump and Clinton

On June 15, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency, declaring, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. . . they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” For more than a year Trump has been the main media headliner. Trump, the Republican Party nominee, calls for “building the wall” and the eviction of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country. According to a survey, 66% of his supporters believe that “immigration is a very big problem.” There is no other issue that resonates more with his supporters than “build the wall (across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and with Mexico paying for it).” They associate Mexicans with criminals and favor the removal of all undocumented immigrants. They oppose any immigration reform measure that smells like “amnesty,” any so-called “path to citizenship.”

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, has called for “comprehensive reform with a path to full and equal citizenship.” Moreover, she has declared that “if Congress won’t act, I’ll defend President Obama’s executive actions and I’ll go further to keep families together.” Taking into account the great animosity Latinos have for Trump, Clinton is counting on Latino voters to overwhelmingly vote for her. She has worked hard in carving the image of being the champion of Latinos, the candidate that will carry out immigrant reform.

She has been one of the most powerful women in the world for the past 25 years, and, for sure, the most powerful one in this country. Until recently, her record on immigration shows that she has never been a proponent of defending the rights of immigrants. She formed part of the inner circle of Bill Clinton’s administration. Her husband initiated the building of the “wall” in 1994 and signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 whose immediate result was the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and the construction of the eviction machine. As a Senator from New York (2000-2008), she was quiet on immigration reform, including the Sensenbrenner Bill. Moreover, she voted for the 2006 Secure Fence Act of 2006 as did Barack Obama

The 2016 presidential election represents the third round of the “immigration problem” match, one in which there seems to be no end to it. Similar to Obama in the first two rounds of 2008 and 2012, Hillary Clinton promises “comprehensive immigration reform.” Donald Trump, on the other hand, calls for expanding the “border wall” and the mass eviction of the undocumented immigrants, just like the two previous Republican contenders for the presidency. Within this divide, both contenders agree on the issue of the “wall.” In her first presidential debate, Clinton clarified that her immigration reform program “will not have open borders.” Therefore, the “wall” is part and parcel of her “comprehensive immigration reform” proposal.

While the Republican proposal on immigration is clear and both contenders agree on the “wall,” the Democrats’ “comprehensive immigration reform” proposal lacks clarity on the issue of “amnesty.” What does Clinton’s “path to citizenship” mean? Who qualifies and who does not? In brief, who gets to stay in the country and what are the penalties that they have to pay for the crime of being here “illegally?” Who will be evicted? The Latino supporters of Clinton have not raised these questions.

An honest response to these questions will need to take into consideration the history of how the undocumented immigrant became criminalized. The current criminalization of millions of people “sin papeles” originated in the xenophobia of the 1990s when both parties competed on who was tougher on crime and “illegal” immigration. To win votes, both parties used xenophobia to justify the building the “wall,” the militarization of the border that began under the Clinton administration. All successive administrations since 1994 have used xenophobia not only to build the “wall” but also to criminalize the undocumented immigrant, beginning with Clinton’s IIRIRA (1996), the foundational legislation piece that led to the criminalization of millions of people. Bush and Obama have combined to evict over 4 million people and 11 million people are targets for possible future removal. The main difference between Democrats on evictions is that Bill Clinton, for reasons of political opportunism, publicized the removal of people. He wanted to show public opinion that he was tougher on “illegal aliens” than the Republican. For reasons of retaining their large numbers of Latino voters, the Democrats of today hide the fact that Obama has evicted more people than all presidents combined from 1892 to 2000.

Stated another way, it is the State, regardless of it being headed by Republicans or Democrats that has created today’s ugly xenophobia. This xenophobia is most clearly visible with Trump’s angry supporters. Trump, the billionaire, is only the interpreter of public opinion’s “common sense” on the “immigration problem,” a “problem” manufactured in the early 1990s. This popular xenophobia is grounded on cultural racism, the fear of the “browning” of the country that is happening in front of our eyes. Demographers have been predicting for a while that the U.S. will be a minority-majority country in thirty years or so. Nativist fear this outcome and are organizing to prevent it from happening. The eviction of 11 million people is a good start in preventing the demographic outcome. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, the German writer, reminds us that fear generates a social scenario where “there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” The modern xenophobia has been brewing for the past 25 years and will not go away regardless of who wins the 2016 elections. The challenge of our times is how to eradicate it. Along this line, W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet, captures the feeling of how the state-created xenophobia manifests itself today in his highly cited poem, “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart;
the center cannot hold . . .
the best lack all convictions,
while the worst are full of passionate intensity.


Martín Coronel

The Human Cost of the “Immigration Problem”: The Case of Martin Coronel

Around 4.5 million undocumented immigrants have been evicted from the U.S. since the event of 9/11. The “wall” and domestic immigration enforcement measures have shaped the social and political reality of the remaining 11 million undocumented immigrants. Hidden in the statistics of evictions that the Department of Homeland Security provides is that the evictees are human beings whose “crime” was their unauthorized entry into this country in search of work to support their families. Their millions of stories have hardly been told.

We don’t know the name of who the five millionth evictees is going to be in the near future. Let us give him the fictional name of Martín Coronel, a native of Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacán, a name borrowed from a character in Raúl Dorantes’ excellent novel, De zorros y erizos (Of Foxes and Hedgehogs, 2014). If we stop the clock on that future historic day, Martin Coronel, our fictional character, fits the profile of the majority of the undocumented immigrants who have settled in this country and of the deportees who have evicted since 9/11. Twenty years ago, at the age of eighteen, he entered the U.S., crossing the Sonoran desert with the aid of a coyote. In going to el norte, Martín was following the footsteps of his grandfather, Epitacio, a bracero who worked in California harvesting fruits and vegetables during the 1940s, and his father, Magdaleno, who in the 1960s and early 1970 went back and forth to California to work in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. Magdaleno was an indocumentado who stopped going after marrying his sweetheart, Esther. With the savings from el norte, he opened a small butcher shop in the public mercado of Ciudad Hidalgo. Their first child, Martin, was born in 1978. They wanted Martin to become a doctor. Martin completed high school but his slightly above grade average was not good enough for admissions into the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo’s medical school.

Without a job and not wanting to work at his father’s butcher shop, Martín decided to try “his luck” in el norte just like his grandfather and father had done earlier in time. He borrowed $5,000 to pay for his journey; a huge loan that he calculated was needed in order to cross to the other side. He was well aware that crossing into the U.S. had become more difficult in recent times. The presence of la migra had grown in the last couple of years and the construction of the “wall” in Tijuana and Mexicali, where his father used to cross without difficulty, meant going to Nogales, Sonora, a new crossing point into the U.S. He intended to go for a few years, pay off what he borrowed, send his parents a few hundred dollars a month, and save $20,000 to open a small business in Ciudad Hidalgo. He hoped to get married and raise a family in Mexico. Unknowingly, he and most of the undocumented migrants of his generation would stay in the U.S. The expansion of the “wall,” greater immigration enforcement, the rising cost of coyote fees, and the dangers of crossing the desert forced the majority of indocumentados to stay in the U.S.

He crossed into the U.S. with his closest school friends, Francisco, a dreamer whose aim in life was to read literature, and Jose, a pragmatic who could do any kind of “jale,” from butchering a hog to auto repairs. School friends named the trio the “three musketeers,” a name derived from Francisco’s favorite book. The name stuck because they were inseparable. They represented the third generation of immigrants from Ciudad Hidalgo (in reality, the fourth if the immigrants who left during the “Cristero war” of the 1920s are included). They crossed with others who came from historic “immigration regions” in Durango, Zacatecas, and Jalisco. In their journey, they also came across people from states that had not been known for sending immigrants, such as Oaxaca and Puebla. They also encountered a few migrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. Unknowingly, they were part of one of the greatest human migrations in modern history, a mass migration that began in 1965 and has involved thirty million Latinoamericanos, more than half of them Mexicans.

The three amigos arrived in the Atlanta area where they had relatives. There was work to be found in the largest city in the Southeast, a new destination point for thousands of immigrants. After a series of jobs in restaurants, Martín found permanent employment as a landscaper. The musketeer’s motto of “all for one, one for all” came to an end in 2006 when ICE arrested Jose after he came out from a dance at the Henderson Arena. Not having seen his parents in ten years and feeling nostalgic, he went to see La Banda el Recodo and Ramón Ayala. He had one beer too many and was arrested for “DUI” and driving without a license. The police handed him to ICE agents. Seeking greener literary pastures, Francisco left for New York City after the eviction of José. Martín and Francisco stopped communicating after a few years.

Martín fell in love and married María del Carmen, a Guatemalan, in 2006. They had two U.S.-born children, Brandon and Brittany. By any account, Martín was a model citizen. He quickly learned English, played in a soccer team, coached her daughter’s soccer team, and helped his children with their homework. He wanted one of his children to be a doctor and the other a teacher. He attended mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary church almost every Sunday and rarely missed a day from work. Unknowingly, Martín and hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their children were changing the face of the Southlands. The catcalls of “wetback,” “beaner,” and “go back to Mexico” became more numerous as the years passed.

He and his landscaping crew did not go to work on May 1, 2006. Instead, they went to “la marcha” in downtown Atlanta to protest the Sensenbrenner Bill. The protesters demanded legalization for all undocumented immigrants. Martín came back from the march convinced that the hope of legalization was a possibility. He expected some kind of legalization when Barack Obama became president. Over the past years, those hopes faded when a handful of his friends were picked up by ICE and deported to Mexico. Martín knows that he has to be very careful if he is going to stay in the U.S.

After more than 20 years here, a Cobb County sheriff will arrest Martín for driving without a license. Let us say the date is going to be November 8, 2018, two years after the 2016 presidential election. Martín will be handed over to ICE agents under the Secure Communities Program. He had a previous criminal record. A Customs and Border Patrol agent apprehended him when he attempted to cross the border in 2004. Martín had returned to Mexico for a month to see his bedridden father. His father died without ever seeing his U.S.-born grandchildren. He immediately crossed again, paying a coyote $6,000.

After spending a little over a month at the Atlanta City Detention Center, an overworked immigration judge will grant him the typical seven-minute hearing. He will sign the voluntary departure papers. Early on that day, December 12, the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Martín will be deported to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Unknowingly, he was the 5th million evictee of the millennium. Disoriented on his whereabouts, he will be stranded without money, documents, and a change of clothes. In the next few days, he will encounter hundreds of others who are in a similar situation and most have one thing in common: they had been living in the U.S. for at least 10 years and had families, including U.S.-born children.

Just like the other evictees, Martin will be lost and confused. Dozens of large and small thoughts will cross his mind. Besides searching for food and shelter, he will have to make difficult choices. Should he return to Atlanta, the city he regards as home because home is where family and friends are living. This choice involves crossing into the U.S. again, a risky endeavor that involves the high possibility of getting caught by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). If that happens, Martín could face a term in prison because of his “criminal” record (he had been apprehended twice, the first in 2004 when he was apprehended at the border, and, most recently, by ICE in 2018). The chances of being caught by CBP will be reduced if he hires a coyote, a smuggler. That option will cost $10,000 and there is no guarantee that he will not get caught. Another alternative is staying put in Mexico, a country that he has not seen in since 2004 when he went to bid farewell to his father. The Mexico of today is currently in a worse condition than the one he knew before he left. This choice involves falling into greater poverty and not being able to be with wife and children. Perhaps María de Carmen, Brandon, and Brittany could move to Mexico with him? How will they adapt to a new country? That will mean finding a good paying job to support his family in Mexico, an impossible task unless it involves illicit work. Martin’s present dilemma is a dilemma that countless of deportees have faced in the past and others will confront in the future.

What does the eviction of undocumented immigrants mean? One can give numerous answers, starting with the separation of families. There are 4.5 million children in this country that have at least one parent who does not have legal status (this does not include the one million children who are here without legal documents). A major study demonstrated that the eviction of a parent has a traumatic effect on children who are at “risk of lower education performance, economic stagnation, blocked mobility and ambiguous belonging.” Evictions also generate greater poverty here and in the native country of the evictee. The family of the evictee loses a breadwinner while the relatives in Mexico or Central America lose the remittances that are needed to survive. The list of consequences that evictions generate is quite large.

According to The Economist, the magazine that speaks for the enlightened business elite, Obama’s deportations are “bordering on cruelty.” Given the number of effects that removals have on millions of people, “bordering” should be removed from statement. The mass evictions are simply “cruel” and inhumane. Juan González, a well-known journalist, wrote on the historical significance of Mexicans in this country, “no Hispanic group has contributed more to the nation’s prosperity than Mexicans, yet none makes white America more uneasy about the future.” This is an important insight that highlights the views of an important segment of public opinion, especially those opposed to immigration, the nativists. They do not wish to know Martín Coronel. They don’t want to have the Coronel family as neighbors. They see the Coronel family as intruder and will be glad to see them evicted. Such are our times when the “center cannot hold, the best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”


The human cost of the "Immigration Problem".


Immigration, Nativism, and the 2016 Election, Part I


Juan Mora-Torres. Associate Professor of Latin American History at DePaul University. A former Teamster, he has worked in the agricultural fields, canneries, and as an adult education instructor. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and has taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Wayne State University (Detroit). His research and writings focus on the history of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands, Mexican migration, popular culture, working class formations, and Mexicans in Chicago. He is the author of The Making of the Mexican Border (University of Texas Press, 2001), and he’s currently working on Me voy pa’l norte (I’ m Going North): The First Great Mexican Migration, 1890-1940. The Making of the Mexican Border won the Jim Parish Book Award. Mora-Torres is the Board President of El BeiSMan.


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