HOUSTON — As predictable as Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric, the decades-old language of anti-Latino hate has resurfaced like a festering boil on the United States’ backside. The platform of the Republican Party has centered around latent racial animus for decades, but since the election of Barack Obama, its platform has featured open bigotry.
As someone who addresses these issues regardless of who is president or which party is in control of Congress, I remind you that not much has changed since Trump left office. You may feel more comfortable knowing he’s not in control, but you ignore him at our peril. The immigrant community knows this, as do the Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities, among others.
For many, concerns around immigration and the harsh treatment of migrants have moved to the backburner. As soon as Joe Biden won the election, the majority of people who voted for him immediately stopped caring about these critical issues. For them, the fight for racial justice is a distant memory. The contrast from the time of Breonna Taylor’s murder to the more recent nearly identical murder of Amir Locke is stark.
“The spirit of my baby is going to haunt you for the rest of your life”: Amir Locke’s mother reacts to prosecutors in Minneapolis saying they will not charge any police officers in the shooting death of her son. https://t.co/0SyFOs2DSM
— 48 Hours (@48hours) April 8, 2022
Similarly, the asylum seekers living on the streets of Mexico and the families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have largely been forgotten. It’s as if liberals are afraid to criticize the current president, even disregarding his dismal approval ratings. No matter how loud Latinos speak, most voters in the U.S. ignore us just as they ignore every other non-white community.
Democrats and Republicans alike cater only to the right-wing among us, engaged in a constant battle to win that demographic during each election. Meanwhile, their courtship of such voters lays the groundwork for ever more dangerous language. Their complacency as hate incrementally grows throughout society leads not only to rights being lost or diminished but to non-white people being attacked or murdered.
The U.S. has allowed political hate speech to become mainstream. Now, it’s ramping up against the Latino community—again.
Is Immigration a Latino Issue?
Conservatives love to tie immigration to Black and Brown immigrants coming across the southern border—or, as they like to refer to them, “Mexicans.” The fact that they label every immigrant along the border as such shows just how ignorant they are about immigration in this country. They have no idea about the different Latin American cultures, nor do they know anything about the various nationalities from all over the world who enter the U.S. via Mexico. Cameroonians, Haitians, Cubans, Hondurans—it doesn’t matter to them because they don’t see a difference. All they see are non-white people.
When it comes to Ukrainian and Russian refugees, however, they’re willing to kick the doors wide open. They act as if we can’t see their racism, their hate for our people. They do this while attempting to appeal to our communities.
Immigration is a subject that impacts people’s lives in the U.S. regardless of race. Some reading on the green card backlog will expose you to just how broad it is and how many families it touches. To the far-right, it’s all about “the border” and nothing else. Fears of white extinction begin coursing through right-wing veins every time the phrase “open borders” is uttered.
Five Democratic senators introduced legislation on Monday that, if enacted, would provide sweeping relief to millions of immigrants in green card backlogs. (Reporting by @PabloReports)#LatinoRebelsDC #immigration https://t.co/D2YV3CISI3
— Latino Rebels (@latinorebels) March 8, 2022
Conservatives have been fetishizing open borders since Biden was elected. Yet, somehow, with the lifting of Title 42, they argue that Biden is again opening the borders. They’ve been saying for months that the administration is allowing anyone entry. Then again, these are the same people that would have you believe toddlers are smuggling drugs across the border.
The right intentionally ignores the complexities of the U.S. immigration system. They ignore how much money is spent militarizing immigration enforcement agencies instead of adequately equipping the system to handle asylum cases. They ignore just how much power they are granting to a branch of the Department of Homeland Security in their backyards.
While many ignore the system’s inhumanity, most will find ways to justify it by demonizing asylum seekers and mocking their desperation.
It’s Already Started
The end of Title 42, which was initially implemented by Donald Trump to keep migrants of color out, is an order that uses health concerns such as the pandemic to close the border. It has since been enforced by the Biden administration and is scheduled to end on May 23.
The news that Biden is lifting the order was sure to bring out hate. Like clockwork, it’s now firing on all cylinders, starting with state elected officials demanding an escalation of immigration enforcement, to already legally dubious actions like those implemented by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Every action sends a message that plays on the racial anxieties of rural white voters. For Abbott, who is seeking reelection in a recently gerrymandered state that stripped Black and Latino voters of their voting power, rural Texans (including Tejanos along at the border) are a key voting bloc.
It should come as no surprise that politicians would make moves as an election draws near, but we’ve become a society that accepts more inhumane behavior with every generation. In 1980, hundreds of Cuban migrants were housed under a freeway overpass in Miami. Today, we make asylum seekers sleep on the streets in Mexico for months or more than a year.
Forcing migrants to “Remain in Mexico” is the result of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. It became acceptable to leave asylum seekers exposed to gangs, cartels, and smugglers only after we locked them in cages and stole their children just a few years prior. It’s an incremental acceptance of inhumanity based on a complete lack of understanding. But such bias and ignorance are no longer acceptable.
As the nation sees and hears Gov. Abbott’s threats to bus migrants to Washington D.C. —what Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at ACLU of Texas, described as “outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional“— we should not dismiss him. He’s not doing this on his own. He’s being advised by people in Donald Trump’s orbit. For them, inhumanity is the point, not just because they get off on it —although they totally do— but because they see the abuse of asylum seekers as a deterrent for would-be migrants in the future.
It wasn’t long after Abbott’s announcement that he backpedaled, suggesting any migrants the state transports will have volunteered to travel. But we can’t ignore where the influence came from. Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s de facto deputy secretary of Homeland Security and director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, recently urged Abbott to explore the invasion clause of the Constitution to declare an invasion at the border and remove asylum seekers—by force if necessary.
Cuccinelli is also a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America, a right-wing think tank.
Many prominent voices in media use subtle language that undermines the plight of non-white asylum seekers at the border. The use of words like “invasion” and “surge,” while mentioning cartels and smugglers in the same breath, is something often heard by pundits on the political right in order to criminalize migrants and strike fear in U.S. citizens.
Meanwhile, those who think they mean well use language suggesting a “crisis” is happening whenever non-white people need help. Very little focus is placed on the system that creates such crises and how to make it more efficient. Instead, the focus is on using language that normalizes how poorly migrants are treated in the name of national security. They help justify it so you can sleep at night.
They never talk of how the United States’ involvement in many of the countries represented at the border is why those asylum seekers come here seeking safety.
Biden/Harris open-border policy has been a disaster. Rescinding Title 42 will make the massive flood of immigrants even worse. Main beneficiaries are gangs, cartels & human traffickers. Trump policy of having people wait on other side of the border worked & needs to be reinstated
— Tulsi Gabbard ? (@TulsiGabbard) April 7, 2022
Too many in corporate media use language that helps bolster the beliefs of racists that take their words one step further. They use the exact phrasing while making their case for why we should treat asylum seekers as less than the rest of us. We’re hearing it several times a day on cable news and even more so in the same social media channels and online forums that mass shooters frequent.
Even Trump has escalated his hateful rhetoric. His speeches over the last year all echo the white nationalism he preaches. He argues that white people are no longer respected and that the country and its culture are being destroyed by socialists and communists. He suggests people “lay down their lives” to defend a country that is under attack.
As people in high-ranking positions continue to drive anti-immigrant rhetoric and use it to score political points, they put lives at risk—and those lives are increasing Latino lives. Whenever the border is mentioned by the political right, they always target us. They aren’t concerned with putting lives in danger. They hide behind plausible deniability and free speech as they inflame extremists willing to kill.
Only then, after people die, do they feign outrage.
Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American father of three young men, an anti-racist, journalist, and publisher of The Antagonist Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here and here.