Letter 3

Source: The Atlantic

While this project focuses heavily on research of national values in immigration policy, the space where these practices are amplified is at the border. While I have mentioned this fact in my last two letters, since living and working at the border for almost the entirety of the summer now, the intersections of race, identity, and culture collide sevenfold in the midst of a pandemic and a racial awakening for Black Lives Matter.

While I spend some time working on the research component of this project, the rest of my time is spent living and working at Annunciation House, a migrant shelter in El Paso, TX. The organization requires that all volunteers live in the shelter and among the people here to take part in an act of solidarity amongst migrant communities. I end most days here exhausted- physically and emotionally. The stories and people I have gotten to know while living here have dispersed my preconceived notions, and, although I only have 3 weeks left here,  I definitely am unpacking how this summer has influenced me for much longer than that.

When redesigning my project in the face of a global pandemic, I realized the importance of documenting and recording the experiences of migrants during COVID. Health, and especially pandemics, do not affect people equally. Race and class bear significant weight on the possibility of contagion, with racial and socio-economic marginalization placing one at higher risk with subsequent worse access to healthcare. Studies have been documenting the racial disparities of COVID, but living among the non-citizen, Latinx community compounds the effects of so many issues in the US. Latinos have the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people, systemic racism in all sectors of the country- housing, education, workforce, healthcare- have placed the migrant community especially vulnerable.

The stories I have heard from those detained are absolutely abhorrent and disgusting. Not only do they speak of crowded, unsanitary detention center facilities (particular vulnerable to COVID spreading), but on multiple accounts those released from detention centers have often mentioned doctors coming in to spread misinformation in the facility, whether that is telling migrants that they aren’t allowed to wear masks to cover their faces to stop spread and rather they just have to live with it or outright denying the existence of the virus. The utter lack of care for those detained is horrific, and it is imperative to spread information about these conditions normally, but increasingly so during a pandemic. High cases in detention centers are likely to go unreported and migrant deaths to be blamed “naturally” on COVID rather than our violent, racist immigration policies.

Additionally, for those released from detention, undocumented poeple are not genrally able to apply for healthcare and are usually forced into jobs in sectors with the highest rates of contagion. Even from the moment you attempt to cross the intensely militarized border, the US has used COVID-19 as a way to implement immigration policies that violate both international and federal law in the name of “public health,” while not even mandating masks in the rest of the country. While there were more than one thousand people coming to Annunciation House last summer, numbers have gone down to single digits because of Trump’s closure of the border. People not have stopped crossing the border, but they are rather immediately detained upon arrival. Trump is using COVID as an excuse to further his harsh immigration policy.

An article from the Atlantic sums it up well: “The administration has compounded the injustice by blocking almost all asylum applications from refugees trying to cross the border, despite the fact that such a measure violates both American and international law…” Rather than actually impose public health regulations requiring masks and placing us on lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, Trump has instead taken to closing the border to further exclude migrants. The intersection of COVID-19 and immigrant at the border is terrifying but important to monitor and critically assess what policy is for public health and what is only to further an anti-immigrant agenda.

Letter 2

Source: John Moore/Getty Images

The work and research I have been immersed in so far this summer has been filled with contradictions- that of the actual policy I am analyzing, my experience living at the border and spaces of intersectionality here, and my own emotional reactions to what I am learning and experiencing.

With my project aimed to understand the role of national values in immigration policy and at the border, I decided that the best way to trace this throughout history would be to identify trends in language in immigration policy and general sentiments and other political factors at the time. Throughout the past couple weeks, I have been doing a heavy analysis of all major immigration legislation passed in US history. I began by compiling a timeline of all immigration policy in the United States. From my initial work, I decided I would focus on liberty, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity, and unity, as they were the most commonly used in my research. From there, I analyzed trends in language used in each from the 1790 Naturalization Act to recent policy in the Trump Administration. I used a word counter frequency to measure the usage of charged words like “alien” and “illegals” and when less racialized and criminalized language was used.

In studying many of these topics during the school year and living at the border this summer, oftentimes, the picture painted with immigration policy is that Trump is the sole evildoer. While I agree that his policies are so incredibly horrific, racist, and inhumane, this logic delegitimize the history of cruel immigration policy in this country in both political parties. This feels especially important to remember in the context of this upcoming election, so I wanted to keep this sentiment in mind as I was researching. After doing this for all the policies, several interesting trends arose.

Words like “alien” and “illegal” are dangerous because they criminalize those crossing and pin them as “dangerous foreigners.” I assumed that use of these terms would be fairly outdated, but I found it used consistently throughout all the policy, including Democratic administrations like Obama’s that the public perceived to be more progressive. The first use of “deportation” was not recorded in policy until the 1903 Anarchist Exclusion Act, despite the first deportation having occurred much earlier. During policy during the Cold War, fear of communism was brought up frequently in immigration policy, and the post 9/11 Era is marked by intense usage of more militarized terms like “border security,” “surveillance,” “protection” to combat “terrorism.” While terrorism had been first been used in Immigration Policy in the 1990 Immigration Act, after 9/11 it became common to take this protectionist stance.

While the Trump Administration has been marked by abhorrent “zero-tolerance policies,” it is important to not isolate these horrific policies, but note other times they have just been more covert, like Clinton’s Prevention Through Deterrence that weaponized the desert to cause invisible migrant deaths or the Chinese Exclusion Act that existed in the US from 1882-1943 and barred all Chinese Immigrants to the US. The horrific assault against marginalized communities of color at the border is not new; the Trump administration is not the only one to blame. The violent intentions are embedded in our history and repeat themselves throughout our political systems. Dialogue, debate, and policy must begin with a recognition of this violent history. Trump cites the migrant “invasion” in the US today, but the land we now lay claim over was violently stolen and colonized by Anglo-Americans.The foundation of this country lays on the debris of genocide against native populations.

For Latinx populations, this cyclical brutality advanced during the Mexican-American War. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded over fifty percent of Mexican land to the United States, creating justification for these colonizers to assault the territory, culture, and lives of Mexicans in the name of god and Manifest Destiny to civilize Latinx “aggression.” This continued in the 19th and 20th centuries with state-sanctioned violence of Latinx populations through lynchings, segregation in public spaces, and exploited labor. The acclaimed Texas Rangers massacred 15 men after busting into their homes and rounding them up in Porvenir, TX in 1918. By 1940, around 80 percent of Latinx children attended separate, severely-underfunded schools. Anti-Latinx sentiments spiked during the Great Depression as Anglo-Americans accused Mexicans of stealing their jobs and forced the removal of 2 million Mexicans, sixty percent of whom were citizens. American foundations rest on violence against Latinx people, despite what presidents claim they want diversity and equality but rather fall into individualism. Our nation’s immigration policy was built on land seizure, racism, violence, and systemic oppression. Our policy and history spells it out clear. The shock and pain the public feels should rage at the Trump administration, but should also rage at the history of racism, oppression, and violence against Latinx populations that underscores all of American history and immigration policy.

Letter 1 – What the border means

“The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture.” —Gloria Anzaldúa Borderlands

I cannot count how many times I have referenced Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera in the past year. I genuinely think I wrote about it in every single one of my classes fall semester at least once. When I first read the book for my Spanish class, I found myself highlighting entire paragraphs in awe of the way Anzaldúa wrote beautiful prose and reflection on her experiences as a mestiza, without even stopping to realize that maybe I loved the book so much because I related to it so much within my identity as Latina and interests in migration. After reading Borderlands possibly 4 times through, I knew that to experience what Anzaldúa wrote about I had to study the border for the summer. 

During the Trump administration, the extreme militarization of the border and its dehumanization of the migrant communities has become incredibly less covert than other administrations, blatantly displaying the violence against migrants to the public and redefining the conversation of immigration. I felt as if I could not study and attempt to witness the magnitude of what is happening at the border during this time, then I would miss out on a defining period in history and the future of immigration in the US. 

The US-Mexico border has become a battleground for state violence, racial injustice, and human rights violations. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has defined the Trump Administration, and actions at the border embody our contradictions within our national values—values like diversity, equality, and unity versus self-liberty and individualism. My project seeks to address the value conflict at the border by developing a deeper understanding of the border as a physical and symbolic space in order to analyze how the United State’s national values interact within this space. 

The United States has a defined set of core values—liberty, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity, and unity. The border represents the pitting of values against each other: individualism and self-government seem to conflict with equality and diversity within immigration policy. With mothers being ripped away from their children at the border and children being detained in cages with foil blankets, it remains difficult to see where “ethics” comes into play. Arguably, values like individualism and self-government can be utilized by anti-immigrant politicians to restrict arrivals and foster anti-immigrant attitudes in the public by justifying it as “American.” I would like to explore the moral compromises we have made and continue to make in our immigration policy throughout time. The US has seen dramatic policy shifts, and border policies have gotten increasingly restricted and violent during the Trump administration relative to previous administrations. If we uphold these core values, how do we validate these dramatic policy shifts? How have our values shifted during different administrations? What values are we compromising? Is there a way to uphold them all? What  significance do they hold?

For the past two weeks, I have primarily been working on foundational elements of my project- researching the history of US national values and how they have played a role in policy. I have begun concentrating on the timeline of all US immigration policy and am working on reading through each to understand how they correlate to our national values. An interesting aspect I have found throughout my work thus far is the correlation between the perceived “American Dream” and immigration. While many of the pieces I have read have argued against anti-immigrant sentiments during the Trump administration, it has been based on the argument that this country throughout history was built by immigrants. Although I share the same opposition to anti-immigrant rhetoric, the argument feels flawed in context with the history of our immigration policy, The first immigration legislation passed in the US was the 1790 Immigration Act which only promised citizenship to white immigrants. So while we are a country built on immigrants, we should criticize who that used to include and who it excluded in order to better contextualize the present. This is something I will continue to explore as I take a critical look at the intersection of our national values and border policy.