Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Understanding Anti-Immigrant, Extremist and Xenophobic Movements against Latinos specially Mexicans.
Political and media figures that oppose immigrants’ rights often share a conservative political orientation. These conservative ideologues blame immigration and immigrants for a wide range of social problems, from unemployment to the poor quality of public schools to urban sprawl and congestion. While such problems are all too real, blaming immigrants for causing them is a form of scapegoating. Misguided and ultimately rooted in racism, it serves to divide people who might otherwise make common cause.
Nativism in U.S. History
“Nativism,” or the idea that only U.S. “natives” really belong here, is not new to this country. Nativism is a thinly disguised form of racism, in which “natives” are tacitly understood to be people of European descent — a category that has expanded since the end of World War II to include southern and eastern Europeans, Catholics, and Jews, although it originally applied exclusively to northern and western European Protestants.
For the past 150 years, attitudes towards immigrants have changed cyclically, often undergoing rapid shifts in response to economic or political conditions. In periods of social and economic turmoil, such as the years following World War I or the post–World War II McCarthy Era, anti-immigrant sentiments tend to flare up as people look for someone to blame. During times of economic growth and social stability, nativism tends to die down. As always, it is difficult to tell to what extent media and political figures reflect public attitudes, and to what extent they create them.
Politicians have often turned waves of nativist feeling to political advantage, voting in policies that penalize immigrants. Two particularly clear examples are the Chinese Exclusion Act of the late 1800s, which banned Chinese-born laborers from entering the country, and “Operation Wetback,” in which more than 500,000 people of Mexican descent (including numerous U.S. citizens) were rounded up and deported during the Depression of the 1930s.
Anti-immigrant feeling ran high in the early 1990s — partly because the country faced a prolonged recession, and partly because of the marked growth of immigration, particularly to California. Some observers believe that the growth of anti-immigrant sentiment in that period was also a reflection of racial anxieties among the white population, as it became increasingly obvious that white Americans would eventually cease to be the majority — a shift that has already occurred in California and is projected to occur by 2050 for the country as a whole.
In addition, a series of economic changes related to globalization were becoming increasingly apparent to most U.S. working people. Such changes included steadily declining real wages, shrinking benefits and protections, the marked growth of temporary and contingent jobs, declining rates of unionization, increasing privatization, cutbacks in health care and education, and the like. Although most of these changes may be traced back to the early 1970s, it was not until the 1990s that they became more widely recognized and discussed.
In 1994, California voters passed an anti-immigrant measure known as Proposition 187, a law that excluded undocumented immigrants from public schools, medical assistance, and other government services. That year, a New York Times/CBS News survey found that 61 percent of U.S. residents thought that immigration levels should be reduced, up from 49 percent in 1986. Although Proposition 187 was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, many of the same measures were incorporated in federal legislation passed in 1996.
The end of the 1990s brought a period of economic expansion and rising wage levels, and anti-immigrant sentiment grew more muted in many parts of the country. The tide turned once again, however, following the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, however, rather than being stigmatized as an economic drain, immigrants are demonized as dangerous terrorists, as the violent acts of a few extremists are blamed on all immigrants, regardless of who they are or why they are here.
Vigilantes, Minuteman Groups, Xenophobic anchor news and Hate Groups.
Anti-immigrant politics have also given rise to an increase in vigilante activity, particularly in the U.S.-Mexico border region. Vigilantes have vowed to stop “illegal” immigration by patrolling the border with binoculars and guns, “arresting” at gunpoint anyone they presume to be an undocumented immigrant. Despite the threat of bloodshed, several political figures have defended such vigilante activity, including former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, who has said that ranchers near the border “have legitimate concerns about the trespassers on their property.” In one 17-month period in 1999 and 2000, at least 30 incidents of vigilante violence were reported in a single section of the Arizona-Mexico border. Other ranchers, by contrast, have installed humanitarian aid stations on their land to assist border crossers who might otherwise face sickness or death due to dehydration.
Some vigilante activity is supported by white supremacist hate groups. A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which monitors the activity of hate groups, describes organized anti-immigrant networks on the radical right. Groups such as the National Organization for European American Rights (NOFEAR), formed by former Klansman David Duke, and the Council of Conservative Citizens overtly promote racial hatred, using vicious language to attack immigrants. The SPLC report describes their views as follows:
In the eyes of most of these groups, immigrants (typically, nonwhite immigrants) are responsible for nearly all the country’s ills, from poverty and inner city decay to crime, urban sprawl, and environmental degradation. Many of them also believe there is a secret plot by the Mexican government and American Hispanics to wrest the Southwest away from the United States in order to create “Aztlan,” a Hispanic nation. (“Blood on the Border,” SPLC Intelligence Report, Spring 2001)
The “Greening of Hate”
In another development during the 1990s, a new form of anti-immigrant ideology took hold, based on claims that immigrants degrade the environment. Since U.S. residents consume resources at a higher rate than people in developing countries, the story goes, immigrants who come here are transformed from low-rate consumers to high-rate consumers, negatively impacting the earth’s environment. Similarly, immigrants are blamed for degrading the quality of life in U.S. communities, by creating more congestion and urban sprawl and less open wilderness. These arguments scapegoat immigrants for the wasteful and destructive consumption patterns of the world’s wealthiest nation.
Anti-immigrant groups like Negative Population Growth or the Carrying Capacity Network are essentially offering a recycled form of arguments for population control. This view identifies “overpopulation” as the source of the world’s ills — with the planetary “excess” population once again tacitly understood to consist of people of color. Once accepted with little question, population control ideology was widely and successfully challenged in the 1970s and 1980s — both by Third World–oriented movements arguing that inequities in the distribution and control of the world’s resources are the primary cause of global hunger and poverty, and by women’s movements around the world arguing that women, not governments, should control their own reproductive decisions.
Some historians trace this type of “scientific racism” back to the original Malthusianism of the 1700s; as each successive form of this ideology has been discredited, a new one has emerged to take its place. The concept of “overpopulation,” for example, emerged when the turn-of-the-century “eugenics” movement, which began in the United States, became permanently associated with the atrocities of Nazi Germany. A generation later, as population control fell out of favor, anti-immigrant environmentalism emerged to take its place. In this most recent manifestation, anti-immigrant ideologues have sought to enlist mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club in their cause — so far without success.
Roots of Anti-Immigrant Activism
European Americans have held a dominant position in the United States, both culturally and politically, for the country’s entire history. Among some whites, racial anxieties over losing their majority status have lead to a backlash, combining with resistance to multiculturalism and other movements that seek to include communities of color as equal partners in all aspects of U.S. society.
White supremacist groups tend to seek members among low-income whites, especially those who have been most deeply affected by deindustrialization and other forms of economic dislocation, channeling their anger and frustration over their own condition toward a clear target — people of color.
Some of the more sophisticated anti-immigrant groups, meanwhile, have tried to reach out to African Americans and other U.S.-born communities of color by including them among the “natives” who are threatened by immigration. While such groups may disavow the overtly racist rhetoric of hate groups, they nonetheless advance the same type of arguments in more “respectable” language. For example, according to the SPLC, the mainstream anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which claims 70,000 members, has worked collaboratively with white supremacist hate groups. Conservative politicians like Patrick Buchanan, meanwhile, combine populist rhetoric on economic issues with racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic ideology.
The overt racism of hate groups and the more subtle bigotry of mainstream anti-immigrant organizations both serve to divide people who might otherwise find common ground in social struggles for justice. While they may attract followers with the power of their rhetoric, such anti-immigrant movements do nothing to address the root causes of suffering — the economic, social, and political structures that maintain an unjust and increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, power, and privilege. Instead, they substitute a lethal combination of resentment, scapegoating, and hatred — the classic recipe for fascism.