Anti-immigrant feelings go way back
Dylan You - Staff Reporter
The laws that restrict undocumented Mexican immigration have been both a cause and effect of the rhetoric that paints immigrants as people to be feared, said the speaker at last Wednesday's History Seminar.
Political Science Professor Benjamin Gonzalez said that the idea of the United States as a melting pot full of people from various countries has always been in conflict with the notion that the United States should be defined as an Anglo-Protestant nation.
As a result, Gonzalez was not surprised by Donald Trump's xenophobic comments toward undocumented Mexican immigrants. "Most people I knew were shocked, but it was never new to me," he said. "Every immigrant group in the United States has at one point in time been painted as more criminal," he said. "One fear is the dilution of white blood."
He said that while Irish people were seen as drunken rabble-rousers, Chinese immigrants were stereotyped as operators of opium dens, and Italian people were considered susceptible to committing crimes of passion.
Many were also quick to paint Chinese men as predators who posed a racial threat to the United States by seducing white women.
Beliefs like this sparked laws that limited European immigration such as the Immigration Act of 1917 and the Johnson Reed Act of 1924.
Eventually, during the Great Depression, many Americans used undocumented Mexican immigrants as a scapegoat. They viewed Mexican immigration as a threat to the safety and economy of the United States. They feared Mexicans would take the jobs of Americans and commit crimes.
Because the federal government wanted illegal immigrants to go back to Mexico, the Mexican Repatriation act of 1929 was proposed. The act required states to pass laws requiring employees to be citizens. The act also prompted American authorities to raid the homes of undocumented workers.
"Immigration raids were publicized in order to create fear," Gonzalez said.
He said that if people were caught, they were forced to pay for their deportation. Those who volunteered had their relocation costs paid by the government.
"If you feel like you're being threatened by the community, it decentivizes the need to stay here," Gonzalez said.
After the end of the Great Depression and beginning of World War II, the Bracero Program of 1942, a guest worker program, was started in response to the fact that U.S agriculture still depended upon Mexican labor.
But the Bracero program spurred greater illegal immigration. It was cheaper and easier for employers to use undocumented labor and the program was allowed to expire in 1964.
Gonzalez said that undocumented immigrants continue to provide great help to the economy due to the fact that they perform the jobs that most Americans are not willing to do.
He also said that they do not come when the economy is suffering.
"People don't realize undocumented immigrants come in waves," he said.
Prejudice against undocumented immigrants rose again with the 1954 implementation of Operation Wetback. The law was designed to deport 1,000 undocumented immigrants per day and was justified under the rhetoric that Mexicans were prone to crime, theft and murder, similar to the rhetoric of Trump as he campaigned for president in 2016.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 brought attention once again to undocumented Mexican immigrants. The border was to be militarized and there was greater emphasis on deportation. This was justified by Rep Lamar Smith of Texas who claimed that undocumented immigrants were 10 times more likely to commit crimes. Illegal immigration was then made a felony with the Sensenbrenner Bill of 2005.
And despite Trump's contention, Gonzalez said that the racist attitudes toward Mexican immigrants continue to this day despite the stereotypes being proven false.
"Donald Trump repeats the rhetoric labeling Mexicans as rapists and criminals," Gonzalez said.Gonzalez said that sanctuary cities are not the issue either. He said that most people who claim immigrants are prone to committing crime are not looking at statistics but cherry-picking specific instances.
"One shooting by an undocumented immigrant and we blame the sanctuary cities," he said. "Many recent studies have found either no relationship or an inverse one when it comes to undocumented immigrants being criminals. Most Hispanics are arrested because of border violations."
Gonzalez said that people who see fences and walls as the solutions justify it around the notion that they need to be protected from something.