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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Pasadena Star-News - Latinos aren't quietly becoming victims of contradictory immigration policy

Pasadena Star-News - Opinion
Latinos aren't quietly becoming victims of contradictory immigration policy

By Gilda L. Ochoa and Enrique C. Ochoa

YET again Latino immigrants are being scapegoated. This time the attacks are taking the form of immigrant raids in greater Los Angeles. The detaining of hundreds of people this month in an apparent shift in Border Patrol policy to arrest undocumented workers in regions far from the border does nothing to address the U.S. policies that lead to immigration.
Instead, it criminalizes and terrorizes members of our communities.

These raids are part of a historical pattern where the U.S. government and corporations have alternately recruited and deported Mexican immigrants depending on the economy.

During times of prosperity and when labor has been needed, the U.S has turned to Mexican workers. However, during economic downturns, it has been Mexican immigrants who have been scapegoated.

This pattern began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Mexicans were urged to come North to help build the U.S. West, working in mines, on railroads, in the fields and in factories, only to be victims of massive deportations during the Great Depression.

And the pattern continued with the Bracero Program (1942-1964) as five million Mexicans were recruited and provided with temporary labor contracts.

However, during this same period, anti-communist sentiment and the post-Korean War recession resulted in a wave of mass deportations by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). During this so-called "Operation Wetback,' hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were deported between 1953 and 1955.

Such policies and practices toward Mexican immigration reinforce unequal power and economic relations between the United States and Mexico and influence the experiences of Mexicans in the United States.

Immigration patterns have also been shaped by U.S. military and economic policies abroad. U.S. intervention in Central America stimulated and prolonged civil wars leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands during the Reagan years and to increased Central American immigration. Throughout Latin America, free trade policies have reduced the barriers for multinational corporations to cross international borders in search of lower labor costs. Such policies have devastated communities and increased the wealth gap nationally and internationally, driving many North in search of work.

The current policies of the U.S. Border Patrol do not address the causes of immigration. Rather, they reveal contradictory and unequal policies that have relaxed restrictions for corporations while supporting expensive surveillance technology and raids to control the movement of workers and families into the United States.

Attacks against immigrants impact all Americans. Increased surveillance and summary raids erode our civil liberties by granting greater powers to the federal government under the guise of "Homeland Security' and the "War on Terrorism.'

Detentions and deportations divide families and foster a climate where Latinos, regardless of generation, may become suspect. Language, color and class position become indicators of citizenship and American-ness, reinforcing narrow conceptions of who belongs in the United States.

The recent attacks against Latinos are reminiscent of the activities surrounding Proposition 187, the 1994 California initiative that sought to deny undocumented immigrants access to education and other social services.

During that period, we saw increased political activism and voter registration among Latinos. Labor unions increasingly supported the rights of undocumented workers, and other sectors of society were outraged by such blatant discrimination.

While the aim of such raids is to instill fear, fortunately members of the Latino community are resisting these latest attacks. In a powerful display of unity, strength, courage and passion, on June 13 more than 1,000 residents took to the streets to denounce the actions of the Border Patrol. As demonstrators marched through the cities of Ontario, Montclair and Pomona, they were accompanied by a continual stream of honking cars and greeted by local residents and area workers.

Such resistance demonstrates that the Latino community refuses to be silent victims of contradictory policies that foster immigration but criminalize immigrants.

Pete Wilson became one of the targets of Latinos' wrath because of his stance on undocumented immigrants. Now will George Bush follow the same path? Gilda L. Ochoa is associate professor of sociology and Chicana/o studies at Pomona College in Claremont. Enrique C. Ochoa is associate professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles.

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