Monday, July 7, 2008

It’s like deja vu, all over again!

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelous’s quote is a timely reminder, as evidenced by the excellent article by Edmundo Rocha on “Immigration Crack-Downs: A Little Bit of History Repeating.” We have previously covered the great repatriation of Latinos in the 1930s, the majority of whom were citizens of this country. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican-American citizens were forcibly exiled to Mexico. Hence, the nativist nightmare that many Latinos and other minorities live with, is the fear that history will repeat itself. Rocha’s article covers, in broad strokes, the history of nativism and repression applied to Latinos, Japanese and other ethnic groups.

Advocates for "enforcement only" would like nothing better than to see a future in which most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US be removed, either through coercive means or voluntarily. In a climate of fear and defensiveness, there is a psychological need to assign blame and fight back against the perceived enemy. It is not the first time that fear has triggered the adoption of tough immigration policies. For example, it was economic insecurity that triggered the racism that contributed to the passage of the infamous laws excluding Chinese immigrants from the US in the late 1800s.

The general invisibility of Latina/o civil rights abuses during the last century has left a large majority of Americans unaware of the forced removal of approximately one to two million persons from the United States during the Great Depression. The 1930s marked the first time in the history of international migration between the US and other countries that the federal government sponsored and supported the mass deportation of immigrants.

Unfortunately, throughout US history, when harsh measures are done in the name of national security, it is often directed at unpopular ethnic/racial minorities. It is easy to draw a parallel between the repatriation of the 1930s and the internment of the Japanese to the measures taken by the US government after September 11 because the policies that were passed after 9/11 proved to be no different. Racial profiling in this sense is a tool that Americans turn to when a perceived outsider threatens to damage the status quo.

Ample evidence has been put forward on Eristic Ragemail that the nativist agenda is considerably broader than simply “protecting our borders.” At the extremes, nativists embrace racist eugenics theories that would sweep up not just illegal immigrants but all ”inferior races”. Those who are concerned with human rights and the dignity of all human beings should look upon the current nativist wave not merely as anti-immigrant but as profoundly racist and extreme. In that regard, history dictates that we realize that to act on behalf of the voiceless is to act on behalf of humanity and perhaps forestall another grave tragedy in human history.

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