CHICAGO — The massive immigration-reform marches of 2006 started as a response to, among many other things, pending legislation that would have made unlawfully present immigrants into felons.
The marches helped squash the legislation, which was known as the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. But the rallies also had a lasting impact on our country by marking the beginning of a move toward bringing unlawfully present immigrants out of the shadows and into the spotlight to take a well-deserved bow. These are your neighbors, the people who cheaply cut your lawn, help you take care of your elderly, prepare your food from farm to table and clean your homes and offices.
After the 2006 marches, unlawfully present immigrants began to “come out,” echoing the phrase that LGBTQ people use when disclosing their sexual identity to others.
“In the last few years, many immigrants, particularly those who were brought to the United States illegally when they were very young, have invoked the narrative of ‘coming out.’ Specifically, they have publicly ‘outed’ themselves by disclosing their unauthorized immigration status despite the threat of deportation laws,” wrote University of California-Davis law professor Rose C. Villazor in “The Undocumented Closet,” an article published in the University of North Carolina’s Law Review in 2013.
“In so doing, they have revealed their own closet — ‘the undocumented closet’ — in which they have been forced to hide their identity as ‘undocumented Americans.’ Notably, by choosing to become visible, these undocumented Americans are slowly yet powerfully reforming immigration policy by demanding that they are recognized as lawful members of the American polity.”
Most people will remember a period of time when young, unlawfully present immigrants were making headlines by being publicly “undocumented and unafraid.” And then some of their parents started being open about their illegal status.
That really stuck in the craw of people such as President Trump and his immigration advisers — official ones such as Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon and unofficial ones such as Kris Kobach — who have made demonizing immigrants the cornerstone of Trump’s election and reelection campaigns.
Trump popularized making America “great again” — an idea that seemed to rest on the belief that immigrants, regardless of whether they are legally or unlawfully present, are what made America not great.
Cue the rash of white Americans getting caught on tape attempting to shame non-whites for speaking languages other than English out in public, or physically harming non-whites seemingly for just being themselves. The shooter who killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart in early August freely admitted he was targeting Mexicans.
Not “illegal immigrants,” but what he and Trump’s followers consider a “Hispanic invasion.”
Hispanic — as in legal immigrants and naturalized citizens from Latin America and U.S. born citizens from parents with ties to Latin America.
Though the shooter said in his manifesto that his views on immigration pre-dated Trump’s run for president, it hardly matters.
Trump’s hard-charging campaign to keep immigrants away from the United States and make those strident “undocumented and unafraid” people scared is no secret.
Now that every brown-skinned immigrant and U.S.-born-Latino feels they are a target, Trump is moving on to terrorizing those who got into the United States “the right way.”
This week, the White House announced new standards for obtaining a green card, and thus U.S. citizenship, increasing the scrutiny of applicants’ finances to ensure they are not likely to someday use taxpayer-funded benefits like Medicaid, housing assistance or food stamps. These measures are expected to weed out low-income immigrants of color who Trump and his followers consider to be undesirable.
Starting last fall, when the idea of tightening the standards for which immigrants might eventually become a “public charge” was floated by the administration, the effects have been chilling. Immigrants are reportedly forgoing their U.S.-born children’s food assistance and medical benefits for fear that if they used them, it could threaten their ability to eventually obtain a green card.
It’s all a part of a master plan to make immigrants, even those who are documented, afraid.
But a lot of U.S.-born Latinos aren’t buying into this noise.
Many of us recognize there is a target on our backs. But some of us are happy to say — to Trump and to anyone who feels they need to rid the country of Hispanics — come at us.
Everything that happens to vilify and frighten Latinos in this country only serves to make us more willing to call our legislators, to register voters and canvas neighborhoods to get out the vote.
In other words, their hatred makes us stronger.