Border Horrors

Mar 28, 2011 No Comments

By Anais LaVoie

In 2001, annual deportation rates decreased for the first time in recent memory.  But in just one decade since September 11th, our culture of fear doubled the number of undocumented immigrants deported every year.  Just this week, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano bragged that the Obama administration currently deports more immigrants than ever; in just the two years since she took office, 779, 000 individuals have faced deportation[1].  We are indeed deporting more than ever, despite the fact that the estimated number of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. annually has dropped by a staggering 500, 000 persons since 2007[2].

Nativism, in the form of anti-immigrant legislation targeting people of color, is a real threat to any notion we hold of justice.  Arizona’s example, SB1070, was not an isolated incident. In fact, state legislators across the country proposed over 600 anti-immigrant bills last month alone[3].  The Mississippi Senate recently passed SB2179, which allows law enforcement officers in any lawful stop or detention to force a person to prove that he or she is lawfully present in the United States, no warrant necessary.  This bill mirrors the intent of two others considered by Mississippi legislators: one requires people to speak English to get a driver’s license, the second mandates that all state documents only be printed in English.

Yet, dehumanizing immigration policy is nothing new.  In 1790, the Naturalization Act stated that only white immigrants of proven moral character could have a path to citizenship.  In 1870, naturalization was extended to immigrants of African descent.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which later included all of Asia, banned immigration from the region and ruled Asian immigrants were “aliens ineligible for citizenship.”  This law had enormous material effects; not only were aliens ineligible for citizenship unable to participate in the political system, but in California, they were not even allowed to own land.  Furthermore, after 1922, a woman marrying an alien ineligible for citizenship would lose her own citizenship status.  This law did not apply to men.  Racial and gender discrimination in immigration policy and enforcement was not outlawed until 1952.  The law did not explicitly state that Asian immigrants could become naturalized until 1965.

In recent history, immigration reform has not made our borders more secure, but more dangerous.  There are currently more border patrol agents than uniformed cops in the entire country.  Every major immigration reform law since 1986 increased the numbers and powers of border patrol officers.  Because there are more agents, more people are stopped, and due to an illusion of progress, more agents are deployed.  The result is a never-ending loop that makes controlling the Southern border consistently more expensive but not necessarily more effective.  Every time undocumented immigrants are returned to their country of origin, they gain a little more knowledge of the system, but little incentive to not try again.  The average undocumented immigrant will successfully enter the U.S. after only two attempts.

Immigration policy is indeed a human rights issue.  This year, approximately 500 people will die trying to enter our country.  And yet, despite bipartisan acknowledgement of the need for a solution, comprehensive immigration reform remains a false promise.  President Obama can say the words during the State of the Union, but can he deliver?


[1]http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/napolitano_in_two_years_weve_deported_more_than_ever_before.html

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/01/AR2010090106940.html

[3]http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/01/states_raise_record_number_immigration_bills_in_2011.html

Spring 2011 For. Pol. Issue

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