In our current America, undocumented immigrants are being targeted by both executive actions and hateful rhetoric. And there are one too many Latinos fueling that anti-immigrant sentiment with a pro-deportation stance.
The truth is that being documented doesn’t mean you’re immune to anti-immigrant hate. Not even being born in the U.S. with six generations of roots in the country saved Joe Solis from having his yellow 1971 Volkswagen spray-painted with the word “illegal” last month.
“I’ve never had that done to me,” Solis, who said he’s of Mexican descent, told KTLA5. “I’ve never felt that feeling before … It’s sad to see that someone might be picking me out or thinking I’m an illegal immigrant. I was born and raised here.”
Solis seemed shocked that anyone would consider him undocumented, but that’s exactly how hate works. Hate doesn’t stop to ask for your papers, hate profiles you based on your brown skin and asks tone-deaf questions like, “But, where are you really from?” Because it all comes down to the exact same thing in the eyes of those who spew white nationalist hate: You don’t belong here.
The vandals who defaced Solis’ van didn’t know the difference between documented and undocumented, all they likely saw was a man who didn’t fit their notion of what “legal” looks like.
There’s a reason some U.S.-born Latinos like baseball star Sergio Romo wear T-shirts that read “I just look illegal.” Because what does being documented look like? Or, more to the point, what does being undocumented look like? Arizona somewhat answered that question with its SB 1070 law, which allowed state police to stop anyone and ask for their papers. Activists repeatedly accused the law of profiling Latinos and others based on who police thought looked foreign.
Still, none of that has prevented me from having heated discussions with foreign-born or first- and second-generation Latino immigrants about whether undocumented immigrants deserve to be deported for not doing things the “right way.” They’re always so quick to dehumanize and villainize immigrant families, who very much resemble their own, based only on a piece of paper.
On Facebook I often see comments from people with Hispanic surnames under deportation stories that read something like “I did it the right way, why can’t they?” I won’t get into what makes those remarks simplistic and ignorant (but if you disagree, you should read this); I will, however, point out the hypocrisy and irony of documented Latinos bashing undocumented Latin American immigrant families.
First, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the Latinos I’ve had these discussions with are white-passing. As a self-described white-passing Latina, I know that my light skin comes with a layer of privilege that I must check. Not all light-skinned Latinos understand that, but it’s more important than ever that we do.
Race, class, gender and economic background are huge factors that affect the opportunities and resources available to members of our community in both Latin America and the United States. We don’t all face the same types of discrimination and marginalization, and, yes, that does make a difference when it comes down to whether someone can invest the time and money needed to go through the immigration process the “right way.”
I say all of this as a proud immigrant and a U.S. citizen. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and go back as often as possible to visit family, but my undying love for my birthplace doesn’t mean I’d ever move back. Twenty years drinking the “land of the free and the home of the brave” Kool-Aid in the United States changes a person, and my way of thinking makes me stick out like a sore thumb in Colombia now. Funny enough, my bicultural upbringing does the same in the U.S.
And as an immigrant whose family did it the “right way,” I saw my mother jump through bureaucratic hoops and navigate confusing forms in English (which I could barely understand with my near native fluency), ultimately having to hire pricey legal counsel. To put it in grossly understated terms: It isn’t as easy as “getting in line.” We were lucky to have the money, but others aren’t, and many lose years of their savings to immigration scams so common even the government is worried about them. It’s very easy for the already complicated uphill citizenship battle to become an unclimbable mudslide. One missed letter, one lost check or one wrong form could be the difference between a green card and nothing.
That’s why it’s disheartening to see Latino immigrants condemn others who similarly came for a piece of the American dream and have worked equally as hard (if not harder) for it. Actually, it’s downright heartbreaking when Latino immigrants aim vicious verbal attacks at Latin American immigrants, who are likely escaping countries spiraling into chaos due to corruption, violence and poverty. Immigrating illegally under those circumstances is not only natural, it’s a human right. Just as birds migrate south for the winter, any human being would escape a chilling reality for the chance at a more secure and dignified life.
Pro-deportation Latinos can go ahead and cling to their shiny green cards or coveted blue passports and find solace in the fact that their family won’t be ripped apart based on nothing more than plastic and paper. But their paperwork won’t make a difference when anti-immigrant hate chooses to judge them based on the color of their skin, their heritage or their surname instead of their legal status.
The cruel irony is that if you’re a Latino currently taking aim at undocumented Latino immigrants or rejoicing in their deportations, you’re likely handing the shovel to the man who is digging your grave.