Democrats’ spineless attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform when they controlled the Congress – coupled with the prevailing racist Latino-phobia demonstrated by incoming Republican House committee chairs – mean that Latinas and Latinos will be facing probably the most anti-Hispanic Congress in memory.
But the real threat lies not in Washington, D.C., but in many state capitals throughout our nation – specifically about nine Republican-controlled states (Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina). The assault on Latino and Latina identity has shifted to state governments.
Failure of the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate to pass the Dream Act has emboldened incoming anti-Hispanic Republicans on the state level to propose legislation that limits access to public colleges.
But it doesn’t stop there.
At least four states, in violation of the 14th Amendment, are coordinating efforts to repeal the citizenship of U.S.-born children whose parents are undocumented (Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Pennsylvania).
I fear that if they succeed in eliminating birthright citizenship, the day may come when those of us who are nationalized citizens may face similar measures. In the anti-Latino frenzy that is unfolding, why stop with newborns?
Some states, like Georgia, are calling for the seizure of property and vehicles of those who “harbor” the undocumented.
So, as a Christian, if you find by the side of the road an undocumented immigrant who is beaten and, like the Good Samaritan, take him to an inn to bind his wounds and nurse him back to health, Georgia’s law will seize your donkey as well as the innkeeper’s establishment.
If Georgia and other states pass these laws, it will become illegal to practice your faith.
But in reality, such laws are really geared to hurt Hispanics because those more likely to provide a ride to or to house a Hispanic in need are Latino and Latina family members. If my spouse, child, parent or any other family member who is undocumented lives with me, I risk losing my home, my car or both.
Of course, while some Georgians move to place anti-Hispanic laws on the books, others oppose such measures.
The Georgia Farm Bureau, which recognizes that a majority of immigrant farm workers do not have legal status, is pushing to ensure that anti-Hispanic measures do not affect its members.
Even though the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the Arizona law, which authorized state and local police to ask for proof of citizenship from anyone they had a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, states are nevertheless moving forward with enacting similar legislation.
The question is: What does an undocumented immigrant look like to cause an officer to conclude “reasonable suspicion”? Speaking Spanish? Mowing one’s lawn? Eating at Taco Bell?
I’m sure that implementation of such laws will be difficult, especially when we consider that Hispanics are not a monolithic group. Some of us are white with blond hair and blue eyes. Others are black with curly hair. Still others are anywhere in between.
We have Native American features and Asian features. We are Catholics, Protestants, worshipers of the Orishas (African quasi-deities), Jewish, atheists, spiritualists and followers of Amer-Indian religious traditions.
Some speak “pure” Spanish. Others speak Spanglish. Still others only speak English. Some converse in Cholo, Mayan, Náhuatl or Pocho.
I would imagine then, that it would be difficult for police authorities to determine with “reasonable suspicion” who among us should be targeted.
May I suggest a measure that might help?
Why don’t we pass one more anti-Hispanic law? Let’s make all Latinos and Latinas wear some sort of patch on their clothing – a sign signifying who is Hispanic. This would make it easier to enforce.
How about a red chili pepper patch? Or maybe a Mexican sombrero patch?
The idea of wearing patches designating who is Hispanic would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that the lives of our people are systematically being destroyed by laws we presently have on the books. Tens of thousands of Hispanics have already perished on the border thanks to the U.S. policy known as Operation Gatekeeper.
When I see the hatred motivating these laws and the harassment faced, I am afraid. I know all too well what it is like to be beaten up in my younger days while my assailants hurled racist epithets. I still carry the scars on my body. I honestly believed those days were behind me.
Now I fear they are our future.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.