Today I’m breaking with my normal schedule and posting something quite different from the topics I usually cover. I’m currently enrolled in a Maymester course as part of my Master’s program entitled #PublicRhetoric: Social Media and Digital Activism. One of our assignments is to choose an issue and actually participate in digital activism, through whatever methods and platforms we find compelling.
Latino immigration into the US is an issue that I studied extensively as part of earning my BA degrees in Latin American & Caribbean Studies and Spanish. During those years, I did quite a bit of volunteer work with the Latino community in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia; consequently, I met some incredible people and learned about the issue of undocumented Latino immigration as not just statistics on a page, but also as, quite frankly, life and death circumstances for real people.
Last year, I wrote an editorial for one of my MA classes, which I’ve mentioned briefly as being the catalyst for beginning this blog. Now, as part of my digital activism project, I’ve re-worked it a bit to be more relevant post-Trump inauguration. I’m posting it here because I know that while we all have different opinions, I have never experienced anything but respect on WordPress and I know that I can expect that with such a polarizing topic as well.
So with that being said, here is my editorial from November 2016, “Rapists or Good People? The Facts Behind Latin American Immigration.”
It began with Donald Trump’s 2015 presidential bid announcement in which he made a claim that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” A year later, and this claim is partially responsible for Trump’s election as our 45th president. The discrepancy in Trump’s statement can be seen in the actual number of violent undocumented Latinos in the US and how the violence is originating. Instead of constructing a bigger wall, it is time that the US constructs an accurate discourse surrounding Latino immigrants.
Trump’s argument against Latino immigration has always been laden with the purpose of awakening fear in Americans about the violent nature of incoming immigrants. However, the facts simply do not support this rhetoric. First data shows that violent crime in the US, in general, has dropped by 34% and property crime has dropped by 26%, even during the height of illegal immigration in 2007. Studies also demonstrate that the demographic of undocumented young Latino men has a significantly lower incarceration rate than their native US-born counterparts, about 1.6% in comparison to the native 3.3%. While one could make the argument that by virtue of remaining in this country undocumented an immigrant is committing a crime, we are still missing the violent link that Trump has so thoroughly stressed in his stance against illegal immigration. Almost half of all undocumented immigrants entered the US legally on tourist, student, or temporary worker visas that have expired, meaning that these immigrants were approved by immigration officials before entering the US and only became “illegal” when their documentation expired. Thus, to claim that undocumented immigrants coming from Latin America are mostly dangerous is simply not fair.
Of course, there are exceptions. There are undocumented immigrants that are committing violent and dangerous crimes- about 1.6% of undocumented Latino young men for example, as discussed above. However, these Latinos are often initially violent out of necessity, as the coyotes, the violent traffickers that charge outrageous fees to smuggle immigrants across the border, often require immigrants to traffic drugs and weapons across the border for them. By forcing immigrants to engage in this activity at the beginning of their trek into the US, coyotes are essentially initiating these Latinos into the violent gangs that Trump has described. Clearly, tacking on an expansion to an already flimsy wall of immigration policy will not reduce violent immigrant crime; by restricting the border, these policies have only created a higher demand for traffickers and have thus created more subversive violent crime by Latino gangs. Trump’s additions to these policies regarding the wall may actually be counterproductive, increasing immigrant violence from the border.
The facts, therefore, easily dispel Trump’s platform; a wall has not and will not fix the challenges and shortcomings facing our national immigration policy. A comprehensive change is required in order to truly initiate significant improvement in this arena. But this change cannot only come from immigration policies; change is also necessary in the discourse circulating about immigrants. In the days following Trump’s election, protests broke out because immigrants and advocates were terrified that their families will be separated under Trump’s immigration policies and that they will suffer. US citizens have been confronted and harassed by Americans who assume that they are undocumented and want them to leave the US. The perception of violent Latino crime that is currently running rampant in our nation is leading to violent discourse.
It is imperative that as a nation we stop framing immigrants as second-class citizens and assuming that all immigrants are criminals. While federal immigration policies are necessary, it is currently more important that as a nation we shift our perception of immigrants from fear-based assumptions to fact-based positive discourse. While federal policies and officials may alienate Latinos, we as individuals must change the narrative. Instead of framing immigrants as criminals, the media and public must consider the immigrants with whom we work, attend school, and neighbor and create accurate narratives based on these people, not the violent criminals that Trump has flippantly claimed make up the majority.
So there you have it. Regardless of political opinions or policy views, let’s all agree to just respect each other.