Deportation revisited

History repeats itself. When times get tough economically, we look for a scapegoat. Currently, it’s illegal immigrants who are taking all of our jobs and using all of our services. We must deport them, presidential candidates scream.

Francisco E. Balderrama, the author of Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, spoke at length to Terri Gross about our earlier strive to purge the US of Mexican-Americans.

In the 1930s—not the early ’30s or the late ’30s, but the entire decade—we turned on Mexican-Americans, deporting them in droves. Legal and illegal. People born here and who lived their whole lives here. People who didn’t speak Spanish.

They were all to go. We didn’t discriminate in our rush to discriminate. We escorted them to the border but many came back. Then we paid to transport them not just to the border but deep into Mexico.

When did this decade of madness end? December 7, 1941. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our entry into WWII, suddenly jobs were plenty and we needed all the workers we could get.

So when will our current passion for deporting end? When the US realizes that it needs immigrants—legal and illegal—for many of our jobs?

Racism as a political tool

I am mulling over something I recently read: the assertion that racism arose in the colonial US as a tool to keep the subordinates divided and subdued (Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States). The poor whites, the enslaved blacks, and the Native Americans had a common enemy in the colonial elite. Instances of rebellions by various combined forces support the idea that the elites feared their collusion. Laws were enacted to prevent collaboration as well as to encourage indentured whites to identify with the elites by promising them economic spoils at the end of their servitude.

I wonder how thinly disguised (or maybe not so thinly disguised) racism is currently being used as a divide and conquer tactic in the US. Certainly different groups have similar beefs with the status quo and the power structure. Keeping them separated and fearing each other through racism (and discrimination in general) is one way to ensure no uprising.

How much does racism as a tool to ensure the security of the elites play a part in the current immigration debacle? Nothing is happening. No Congressional resolution is in sight for the “problem” of immigrants in modern-day US. How much is the fear of the Other, the fear of the immigrant, being stoked to ensure the status quo? The fear of jobs, culture, and identity is raised. But is this legitimate? Or is it disguised racism to keep political, social, and economic inferiors in the US in their place?