Weaponized Stories and Migrant Vulnerability — How Criminalization and Stereotypes are Used to Attack Immigrant Communities of Color

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Photo by Lorie Shaull on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

About a year ago, we wrote an article about resisting Trump’s war on Latinx immigrants,* and in January, we wrote a piece on the importance of people of color immigrant solidarity. Since then, this administration’s targeting of immigrants and immigration has only intensified further. The most recent news is nothing short of horrifying: an indigenous Guatemalan woman (Claudia Gomez) executed at the border, 1,500 unaccompanied minors “lost” in federal custody, new explicit policies* separating children from their parents* (most of whom are seeking asylum), and government run concentration camps housing these children after being torn from their families. It is obvious this administration is pursuing the maximum dehumanization and torture of Black and Brown people. Unsurprisingly and most dangerously, Trump and his ICE/border patrol henchmen have chosen to attack the most vulnerable within these communities— migrants.

Criminalization and Stereotypes

Criminalization is a gateway to doing terrible things to a group of people with minimal or no recourse. In America, it also happens to be a move straight from the playbook of white supremacy. The criminalization of Black and Brown people started during the 1960s and 70s in order to stifle political unrest and resistance, especially in Black communities. These same tactics are again being employed to target immigrant populations, such as ICE fabricating gang affiliations as an excuse to deport Latinx youth (most notably as a workaround to DACA protections). Criminalization not only allows those in power to commit racial violence against targeted groups, it aids in the widespread dehumanization of people of color. Once this happens, our communities face extreme vulnerability to threats from individuals and the state, including ICE in the immigration context. For example, former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Hotzclaw was able to rape multiple Black women because they were not seen as valued members of society due to their vulnerability along the lines of race, class, and gender. Migrant children and families are similarly vulnerable which makes them extremely susceptible to physical and sexual abuse, as well as and human trafficking targets. Trump’s response to the pervasive violence and abuse against these children has been to criminalize them further by claiming they are “not innocent” but rather criminals in the making.

Documentation is frequently used as an initial criminalization tactic; however, ICE is now targeting naturalized citizens and legal residents as well. Many people say “but undocumented people are breaking the law” or “these people are illegals.” Contrary to common belief, being undocumented is not a criminal offense and legal DOES NOT = good. Slavery, Jim Crow, the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears” every single one of these acts were legal and created to protect white supremacy. Moreover, federal immigration laws only came into existence in 1882 when xenophobia turned on the Chinese. “Illegal” is just a whitewashed term for nativist ideology.

This administration draws power from criminalizing and demonizing Black and Brown bodies whenever it can, and our immigrant communities are no exception. Trump and Sessions perpetuate blatant lies about immigrants and criminality, regardless of the actual fact that less than 3% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants have been convicted of a felony. Trump’s agenda is to depict Mexicans (his euphemism for Brown immigrants) as “flooding the borders,” and to push the anti-immigration narrative that only Black and Brown people are undocumented, “bad hombres.” But while Trump and his fellow white supremacist cronies keep talking about Mexicans, fewer people from Mexico are actually immigrating here and likely do not comprise the majority of U.S. undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, there are about 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants who have mostly overstayed their visas”but no one tells them to go back to where they came from.

Historical Amnesia

Stereotypes about immigrants are also used to erase context and history. By blatantly ignoring how the immigration process actually happens in this country, we disregard the role the U.S. plays in creating the unsafe and violent conditions in the countries from where asylum seekers flee in the first place. We forget the fact that much of the American Southwest was Mexico before the U.S. declared war, stole the land, and called it cessation. (Not to mention the ongoing “pattern of mutual economic opportunism, with only rare moments of political negotiation” between our government and Mexico.) And while the U.S. continues its racialization and demonization of Mexico and Mexicans, federal programs like the Bracero program continue to bring people over the border for cheap labor only to push them back the minute they aren’t seen as useful. We somehow no longer remember that the minute white people felt scared and vulnerable during the recession, they accused Mexican immigrants of stealing their jobs, resulting in the illegal deportations of hundreds of thousands of U.S. Citizens. And most disturbingly, we turn a blind eye to how racial violence has played out particularly strongly and violently in the southwest, where Mexicans were regularly lynched in order to maintain white supremacy.

Sharpened Tools and Dangerous Days

White people use the same tools over and over again and make up bullshit stories to justify their racism. DeNeen Brown talks about the longstanding legacy of the U.S. separating children from their families — from slavery to Native American assimilation schools, and now, to the current immigration crisis. Chinese were brought in as cheap labor, then targeted to protect white people again through the Chinese Exclusion Act. Japanese-American citizens suddenly had everything taken away from them once they were unfairly seen as domestic threats during World War II. Today, people of color and immigrant communities continue to be criminalized and demonized by the ongoing “war on drugs,” and mass incarceration.* We simply cannot afford to fall for these white supremacy tactics against people of color. Staying vigilant and standing up for and with each other is our only option for survival and liberation.

This is part of a series of pieces focusing on people of color solidarity at the intersections of oppression, race, and immigration. You can financially support our work at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/solidaritywoc

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