Several of my friends recently have come to me and said: “I’m not anti-immigration, man. I’m anti-ILLEGAL immigration!”
Resisting the urge to be a jerk, it would be more productive if—having spent a solid chunk of time south of the border—I laid out some reasons to demonstrate how problematic it is to say you’re anti-ILLEGAL immigration, and how such a viewpoint is rooted in potentially racist presuppositions that are often flat-out false:
1) Saying you’re anti-ILLEGAL immigration implies that it’s somehow easy, or even doable, for people to get into the US legally. It’s not. US immigration agencies in Latin America are notorious for charging exorbitant sums of money just to apply for a Visa, and then making applicants repeat the process over and over again simply to milk them of their money. For many poor Latin Americans, this is economically catastrophic. For Central Americans in particular, it can also be deadly, as oftentimes they have only a few days to escape before getting killed by a gang, and they can’t wait forever while they lose their money in multiple application attempts.
2) Our economic system is predicated on having illegal immigrants for the cheap labor they provide, because they won’t fight for higher wages for fear of being deported. It’s no accident that when global capitalism first flourished in the 1990s, the worlds borders, including the US-Mexico, were immensely militarized. The idea was that—if corporations could move freely about the world, but poor people couldn’t—the poor people brave enough to suffer past those militarized borders would then be content with subpar wages and remaining invisible. Labor follows capital—the workers go where businesses are. ILLEGAL immigrants are only following the economic logic of the capitalist system which, ironically, many anti-immigrant (ahem—anti-ILLEGAL immigrant) voices uncritically support.
3) You may not personally be racist. But making constant insinuations of the illegality of Latino immigrants gives legitimacy and encouragement to actual racists willing to commit violence against said immigrants. Its the same as when Trump spends all year talking about the Hispanic “invasion,” only to have a white supremacist terrorist massacre Mexicans to slow down the “invasion.” It’s the same as saying “I’m not anti-Black! I’m just anti-Blacks who are lazy, do crack, have too many babies, kill each other, and don’t pull up their pants.” By perpetuating notions of criminality, you’re laying the bedrock for the racism which you proclaim to not be a part of.
4) Sometimes, laws are wrong. They’re unjust. The Holocaust was legal. Slavery was legal. Our current system of global, neoliberal capitalism creates near-jobless hells in the Global South—places like Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala—and tacitly implies that poor people from those places should make dangerous journeys to become underclass, underpaid, invisible workers in the Global North. On paper, this system is “legal.” Poor people doing everything they can to help their families survive in this system are “illegal.” Once we realize that this legal system is inflicting suffering on a majority of humanity, we would realize that our humanity should take precedence over laws, and consider reworking those laws so people don’t have to become ILLEGAL immigrants in the first place.
5) Use your humanity. If they had to live in those countries—performing humiliating jobs to make no money, threatened every day by terrifying, militia-like gangs—you would become an ILLEGAL immigrant in five minutes. In Honduras, I met a family whose cousin was tortured and murdered by MS-13 gangmembers—by stuffing sponges down his throat until he asphyxiated. I met taxi drivers who would be murdered before sundown if they didn’t pay a “war tax,” or large sum of their salaries, to the gangs, who control entire portions of the city. You could see the fear in their eyes when you ask them about it. Would you want your kids living in that environment? Would you want to live in that environment? If not, I can say that you, too, would make a rational choice by becoming an ILLEGAL immigrant.
I’m not trying to call anyone racist. But, before you say you’re anti-ILLEGAL immigrant, do your research to understand that becoming an ILLEGAL immigrant is the most logical thing these people can do. And use your common humanity. Be a good person.