Lo Que Duele Es Que La Gente Lo Cree: What Hurts Is at People Believe It (July 2017)

Yolanda Valencia, University of Washington.

From the start of his campaign, Trump targeted Mexican immigrants, framing them as the worst of Mexico: criminals, rapist, and drug dealers. During his campaign, Trump promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border (Yee He Lee 2015). Within the first week of his presidency, Trump signed a series of executive orders designed to begin planning for the wall and to increase deportations, claiming that he was fulfilling his campaign promises (Gam- boa 2017). Furthermore, Trump is trying to sanction Sanctuary Cities (Somin 2017), has broadened the category of undocumented immigrants who qualify for “priority” removal (Pierce 2017), and is actively deporting not only those who are framed as criminals, but also those protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): an executive order signed by Obama in June 2012 shielding some undocumented immigrants—who entered the country as minors—from deportation and granting them working permits (Rivas 2017). Despite the severity of the situation, it is important to highlight that Trump is continuing—and intensifying—previously established anti-immigrant policies. The creation of the physical barrier and militarized zone we call the US-Mexico border began in 1924 when the border patrol was first created under president Calvin Coolidge (Nevins 2002).

Additionally, as others have noted in this forum, President Barack Obama—hailed as the first US president of color—also supported increased militarization of the border. During his presidency the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proudly announced, “The Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in its 87-year history, having doubled the number of agents from approximately 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 today” (2014). After deporting over 2.5 million people between 2009 and 2015, Obama became the president who deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in US history (Marshall 2016).

Allegedly, these actions represented Obama’s strategy to achieve bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform in favor of millions of undocumented immigrants. While these actions might have come out of good intentions, broader immigration reform was never accomplished. The material consequences of a more deadly border region and massive deportations have had detrimental effects on millions of immigrants’ lives. Some argue that Obama helped undocumented immigrants by signing executive orders such as DACA and DAPA: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (signed in November 2014) to protect certain parents of children citizens of the US from deportation. These orders, which indeed bene t those who qualify, are limited and exclusionary, creating a “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrant, and dividing families. They effectively serve as bandages, at once disguising structural racism and validating massive exclusion. Thus, while in practice Trump’s politics are not much different from Obama’s actions, what is different is Trump’s openly racist rhetoric legitimizing anti-Mexican immigrant sentiment and violent actions at a local scale, including against children in schools and sports, and against families in their own homes.

In order to illustrate this, I present three brief cases based on semi-structured interviews/conversations conducted early this year. This research took place in Eastern Washington State where I have a large Mexican immigrant network. As a Mexican immigrant myself, I am an insider to this community. The purpose of my research is, in part, to understand how Mexican immigrants build and maintain community bonds in the context of anti-immigrant politics.

When I asked an undocumented middle-aged woman what she thought about the new administration she said, “Este señor echa muchas mentiras acerca de nosotros los Mexicanos, pero lo que duele es que la gente lo cree” [This man lies a lot about us Mexicans, but what hurts is that people believe it]. This woman has a ten-year-old boy who plays soccer in a team formed mostly of children of Mexican descent. Her son has played soccer for four years and she explained that soon after Trump’s election, she was sad to hear white boys from opposing teams make racist comments such as “What are your doing here? Go back to Mexico beanners [sic]!” These comments really hurt children; her son now refuses to play sports.

A second grade teacher in the Pasco Washington School District, where the majority of children are of Mexican/Latinx descent (“Washington State Report Card” 2017), mentioned that ever since Trump’s election, her young students constantly asked her if Trump is going to deport their parents. In order to decrease their anxieties, the teacher began telling the children that she will not allow the deportation of their parents. Still, she says that the children cannot concentrate; they’re worried about losing their parents. This fear is well founded. Beginning in 2012, under the Obama administration, there has been increased cooperation between local law enforcement and the federal government to identify undocumented immigrants for deportations in several Washington counties, including Franklin, where Pasco is located (Peterson 2012). Thus, in practice, there has been intense deportation before Trump. However, fear at the personal level has intensified after Trump. This shows the power of Trump’s racist rhetoric in engendering fear and vulnerability in immigrant populations.

A Mexican family from my community mentioned that lately, a white neighbor frequently calls the police on them with a series of trivial complaints: a barking dog (when the white neighbors have three barking dogs themselves), noise from the Mexican teen- ager practicing guitar five minutes past 10 pm (a neighborhood restriction), or even use of their re pit, which was compliant with re department safety measures. According to this Mexican family, the white neighbors were friendlier before, but after this election they have become unfriendly and racist.

These are just small glimpses that illustrate how the administration’s openly racist rhetoric goes beyond the headlines and validates and justifies policies that produce material and personal consequences. Trump’s racist discourse permeates the everyday and intimate life of Mexican immigrants and their families. Such rhetoric affects children’s learning and health. It disrupts life in the “privacy” of immigrant homes and beyond.

Even though government policies and practices against Mexican immigrants have not radically changed from the last administration to the current one, there is something different and potentially good about Trumps’ openly racist rhetoric in comparison to Obama’s institutional racism disguised by a nominally progressive politics. The overt racism and intensification of anti-immigrant rhetoric, policies, and actions are more painful, and produce more immediate negative material effects. But at the same time, racism is no longer hard to see, name, and prove, making possible a stronger and more articulated resistance to it.


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