Border Control – The Everlasting Effects of Anti-immigration Rhetoric
By: Bella Mendoza
Growing up, the story of how some relatives arrived in the U.S. was frequently told at our family gatherings. To me these were stories of a hero’s journey, full of adventure and enough suspense to keep us children on the edge of our seats as we waited to see if our protagonist would make it across the immigration checkpoints or escape from the chasing INS agent.
However, as I got older, I began to see that these were not simply entertaining stories– but actual accounts of the treacherous journeys that my mother’s cousins endured as they persevered to make America their home. By the time I left for college, I understood that the inflection in their voice while they relayed the stories was a mask for their constant fear of deportation, that the crescendo in the plots were the scariest moments of their lives, and that their smiles as they concluded the story reflected their gratitude to the generous individuals who helped them become U.S. citizens and make this country their home. However, not every story has a happy ending.
In California alone, there are 2 million undocumented immigrants, nationwide this number jumps to 11.7 million. These immigrants live in fear of being deported and separated from their families. Over the past decade, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been exacerbated. HIspanic immigrants have been labeled as criminals. Former President Donald Trump even publicly exclaimed that “they’re rapists”, re-enhancing these negative ideas about immigrants coming from countries south of the border.
When Donald Trump held office, his administration and Republican lawmakers pushed an anti-immgiration agenda, promising to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. to curtail the amount of undocumented immigrants entering the United States. Donald Trump fought hard to push this agenda, reducing legal immigration by 63% and increasing the number of migrants in detention centers.
One of the most controversial initiatives passed during the Trump-era was the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), also commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” program. This protocol was passed in 2018 as a part of Trump's agenda to pass stricter immigration laws. Within the two years this law was implemented, over 70,000 migrants were sent back to Mexico faced with the same danger that made them seek asylum in the first place. Although this initiative has since ended, there was backlash from a few conservative states, resulting in Texas filing a lawsuit to continue to enforce this policy. This program nonetheless led to hundreds of thousands of immigrants being forced back into dangerous situations, putting their safety in danger – the federal government itself even acknowledged that the program “impos[ed] substantial and unjustifiable human costs on migrants who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”
Detention Centers have also increased in popularity and put an undue burden on immigrants as they are often exposed to dangerous illnesses and mistreatment at these facilities. The majority of individuals in these detention centers are not deemed a threat to the public as approximately 75% of them do not hold a criminal record or have a violent past. The primary reason immigrants move to the United States is to create more opportunities for themselves and their families. However, many are unable to pursue these opportunities because they are held in these detention centers.
In April 2020, Angel Rivas, along with other former ICE detainees, filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) for the immediate removal and release of vulnerable detainees held in the Mesa Verde detention center in California. The lawsuit led to a ruling by the U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ordering ICE to reduce overcrowding in these detention centers and require rapid COVID-19 tests for all staff and detainees.
ICE filed a number of appeals to challenge this decision, arguing that Chhabria was overstepping his authority and micromanaging these facilities. However, on January 27th, ICE agreed to limit the number of detainees held in these facilities, abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols. The terms of this settlement will remain in effect for the next three years.
Throughout Biden’s campaign, he ran on promises to “finish the work done of building a fair and humane immigration system –restoring the progress Trump has cruelly undone and taking it further,” according to Biden's official campaign website. Nevertheless, after he took office, he continued to increase the number of detainees in these migrant detention centers, reaching an all-time new high.
Biden, however, did change some of the immigration protocols previously put in place by former President Donald Trump. In September 2021, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced new Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration Laws that prioritizes the removal of migrants that are the most urgent threat to public safety and guaranteeing a case-by-case assessment to each individual to determine if they pose a threat to the public.
Anti-immigration rhetoric continues to put Latinx communities in danger. Roughly 40% of Latinos in the United States worry that they or someone close to them could be deported. Not only does this separate families, but it also puts unnecessary people in harm, ruining lives of millions.
The United States is supposedly “home of immigrants' ' and “land of the free;” however, when these immigrants come from minority majority countries instead of ones that have eurocentric populations, they are seen as outsiders and suffer discrimiation day after day. These individuals come to the United States to work the labor intensive jobs that everyone takes advantage of, but instead of being celebrated for that, they are labeled as “criminals” and “rapists.”
As I grew up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a community that accepts and respects immigrants, realizing they are an essential part of the United States identity. But as I grew older and began being exposed to everyday modern media, I quickly realized that this is not the case nationwide. When President Donald Trump was elected, my heart sank, not because of the realization that long standing precedent may change, but because of the unburdening fear that people I knew, cherished, and loved could be put into danger and sent back to a place that was no longer their home. Soon, these stories I heard growing up became more of people’s realities and attitudes that used to welcome immigrants changed into snide comments and disgusted looks. These policies affect more than just undocumented immigrants, but also their families. By putting a strong emphasis on eliminating illegal immigration and creating extreme consequences for it, not only harms innocent individuals, but also creates this narrative that immigrants from south of the border are dispensable and insignificant.