This summer, while I was in NYC, my friend Gia and I decided to go to Coney Island for the day. I told her that I wasn’t going to bring my wallet because I didn’t want it to get stolen while we were swimming. She told me she couldn’t do that; she had to have her license on her at all times in case someone tried to pull a “quick one” on her. I had to ask her what she meant. Gia, who was born in Guatemala and has beautiful brown skin and dark hair, just looked at me and said, “ICE.”
Even though Gia is a U.S. citizen, her fears of being deported for absolutely no reason other than her skin color are valid. According to the New York Times, in March, 9-year-old U.S. citizen Julia Medina was detained by CBP for 30 hours despite having a passport on her that proved her citizenship. In late June, 18-year-old Francisco Erwin Galicia was detained for 23 days fearing deportation despite having a wallet-sized Texas birth certificate, Texas ID card and Social Security card.
I, a white person, have never lived with the fear of being detained or even yanked out of this country at random. In fact, when I asked my Asian American and African American friends if they feared being stopped by CBP or ICE, most of them said “no”. Only my Hispanic and Latino friends said “yes”.
The efforts of CBP and ICE and the fears of the American people regarding illegal immigration are definitely directed at certain groups of people. When Americans think about immigration, most think about illegal immigration. And when most think about illegal immigration, they think about immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. But why is there such a stigma regarding these groups of people?
In point of fact, Mexican unauthorized immigrants now make up less than half of all unauthorized U.S. immigrants according to the Pew Research Center. While fear of Hispanic and Latino immigrants has been around for decades, many believe it has been heightened recently because of the words and actions of the Trump administration.
Today, the Statue of Liberty is commonly associated with immirgation. There are several phrases linked to the Statue of Liberty, but the most recognizable is “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote comes from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus.”
In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli was asked whether the words “give me your tired, your poor” were part of the American ethos. Cucinelli responded: “They certainly are. Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” In a later interview with CNN, Cucinelli said that the Emma Lazarus poem referred to “people coming from Europe.”
This language reinforces negative stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino immigrants. It sends a message to the world that America only wants white immigrants. Additionally, as Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said in a tweet, “The whole point is you come here with nothing and build something.”
I was taught in elementary school and again in junior high that this nation is a nation of immigrants. We called it a “melting pot” and were told that there is nowhere else like it in the entire world. Teaching this was a source of pride for my teachers. I think it is time that we start remembering that.