Anti-Latino sentiment and common stereotypes on Mexicans do often shape the way people think and feel about Hispanic immigration to the US. You don’t need to imagine an immigrant now: the image has already been perpetually inculcated into your brain by Donald Trump. A Mexican, or someone of Hispanic descent is more of an immigrant now: he is a rapist. A Muslim is more of a haggler: he is a terrorist. Politicians, media, and the journalists relentlessly represent the immigrants as outsiders and threat to the white Americans. This is largely due to hegemonic ideas that stem from racist beliefs, which are then institutionalized by government officials through legislation, especially that regarding immigration.
There are a plethora of malignant misconceptions surrounding immigration and inaccurate and demeaning stereotypes of Latinos in the U.S. Such stereotypes include illegal immigrants who have come to steal jobs, and lower class people who intend to engage in “freeloading” off the welfare system. These defaming and falsely founded beliefs have caused white Americans to fear the American Latino population and categorically view them as threats to their livelihood. These irrational fears of Latino immigrants (regardless of their legal status) have subsequently been legitimized and augmented by racially driven policies and law enforcement practices targeted toward this minority group. This has thus created a malevolent cycle of discrimination, the main purpose of which is to maintain a façade of economic security and protection against crime; however in truth, it is to preserve white supremacy in the United States.
Immigration policy, unlike the English-only movement and other more explicit moves toward white supremacist policies, is more covert in its exclusion of minorities, especially Latinos. It is often masked by a supposed need for the maintenance of national and economic security, but for the most part, that is all that it is: a mask. Possibly the most evident reflection of racism in American law enforcement is racial profiling, which is when police officers treat people more harshly due to their physical appearance, which usually means their skin color. This very obviously racially-based paradigm on which many police base their decisions was legitimized in 1975 by a Supreme Court decision, deciding that a person’s “Mexican appearance” “constitutes a legitimate consideration under the Fourth Amendment for making an immigration stop”. The immediate assumption that a person’s “Mexicanness” is proportionate to their tendency to break the law is proof that the American public’s views of Mexicans, and Latinos on the whole, are riddled with prejudices and racist notions, which were promoted and to some extent eulogized by the Supreme Court’s decision.
One of the first immigration laws that directly affected Latinos was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which set out to reduce illegal immigration by “granting amnesty to current undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and (2) imposing sanctions on employers who hired illegals in the future” (Kilty and Vidal de Haymes 11). This policy did not have the intended effect, however, because the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) enforcement procedures were ineffective, and therefore undocumented workers could obtain false documents.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act, in comparison to other future policies, was rather benign. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was one of these laws that “contained additional and even more punitive provisions than the 1986 legislation”. This included increased border patrol, which is a direct demonstration of the government’s desire to keep foreigners out of the country. The Border Patrol has been further used as weapon, quite literally, through the government militarizing it. It has “received special training for over a decade now,” and long-term military assistance has “improved the ability of the Border Patrol to carry out ‘‘special,’’ military-style operations”. Yet only two years before, “Canadians [could] freely enter through our northern border” (Rodriguez and Gonzales 1994). This excessive militarization against non-whites indicates that the U.S. government sees incoming illegal immigrants as invaders, as Art Thompson, the CEO of the John Birch Society (a conservative public policy organization) claims: “in massive numbers, illegal immigration constitutes an invasion”. This makes illegals out to be some sort of rebel guerrilla force that intends to threaten the lives of Americans. This may be true in very few cases, such as with terrorists and some drug dealers, but the majority of average immigrants have no such intentions. Blaming the many for the actions of a few is unfair to the majority and prevents innocent people from having better lives in the U.S.
America is supposedly based on the idea that laws are meant to protect us: but who is “us?” Immigration has been, and remains to be, a very complicated issue. It is complicated for the most part, however, with the racism prevalent in society, which is then transferred into the minds of legislators. Thus our belief in the American government and our racist attitudes toward Latino immigrants cyclically augment each other and make these people suffer, when they initially came to the U.S. to avoid something terrible in their own country or to get something positive out of ours. The only way for this cycle to be broken is for one of the components to be stopped, and this component must be societal prejudices and discrimination: racist legislation cannot exist without a racist society, but society can protest against racist legislation. The more aware we become of the reasons behind such legislation and their negative effects on the lives of Latino immigrants, the closer we can come to having no negative prejudices when we picture them in our minds, and therefore the way we treat them will improve.