Donald Trump’s proposals on immigration action are racist. He is calling, for example, for the elimination or the revision of the Fourteenth Amendment that provides U.S. citizenship to anyone born in the United States. This amendment was intended to confer citizenship on the emancipated African American slaves. Trump is aiming his attack on the amendment, however, on the U.S.-born children of undocumented Latino immigrants.
For Trump and like-minded people, undocumented immigrants, or what they inhumanely refer to as “illegal aliens,” are strictly Latinos, and, in particular, Mexicans. “Illegal alien” and Mexican are two sides of the same coin in Trump’s world. What people like him are concerned about is not just that some immigrants enter the country without documents, but that they are of a particular “race” — what they might refer to erroneously as the “Mexican race.”
There are undocumented immigrants here from Canada, from Asia, from Ireland, and from other non-Latin American countries, but they are not Trump’s “illegal aliens.” In effect, Trump has racialized the term “illegal alien” (and even the term I prefer, “undocumented immigrants”). Either way, Trump is suggesting that these immigrants are not the immigrants the United States wants not only because they don’t have documents, but also, more importantly, because they are Mexicans. For him the term “Mexican” is a racially loaded term used to suggest an inferior race of people. Trump demonstrated this view during his June 16 presidential announcement speech, when he characterized Mexican immigrants as “people that have lots of problems,” criminals and rapists.
What Trump says is not true and certainly is not historically based. The idea that the main reason undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. is to have so-called “anchor babies” is not factual. Many undocumented immigrants from Mexico, for one, are single men or husbands and fathers who leave their wives and children behind while they search for work. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of undocumented people come for one simple reason: to get jobs to survive and help their families to survive. The fact that they have children born in this country is incidental to their main reason for emigrating.
In addition, second-generation Mexican Americans, the children of immigrants, historically have become acculturated in our country, and most have been hard-working and patriotic Americans. Many have fought in this country’s wars. In World War II, alone, as many as 500,000 Latinos, mostly Mexican Americans, participated in the U.S. military. Mexican Americans have won 13 Congressional Medal of Honor awards, the highest of any American ethnic group. And Trump would have them deported? Give me a break!
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Trump believes in going around insulting and castigating others by calling them all kinds of names. That seems to be working for him. So my suggestion is that those who oppose his ugly and divisive views should fight fire with fire and do what Trump is doing. Call him what he is — in this case with respect to changing the Fourteenth Amendment, his views are racist.
[Mario T. García is Professor of History and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of many books on Chicano history.]