Waves of anger wash across all Latinos
Arizona Daily Star
12.21.2007

Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/217157

 When the Pew Hispanic Center reported last week in a new poll that an increasing number of Hispanics are feeling uncomfortable with the mounting measures against illegal immigration, one important aspect was missing. History is repeating itself.

Again in our communal American history when the majority has set its sights on scapegoating a minority the ill-effects of anti-illegal-immigrant policies are widening in larger circles.

And those turbulent waves are washing over legal Latino immigrants and American-born Latinos.

The laws, while aimed at freezing out undocumented immigrants, are heating up the rancor toward Latinos in general. We are being made the culprit and cause of whatever afflicts our country.

There is mounting anecdotal evidence that Latinos are being asked to prove their citizenship while crossing the border ports of entry or driving around town. While racial profiling exists, it's hard to prove.

But Latino racial profiling is there. Just like the stares I get when I speak Spanish in public. The rising resentment against the public use of Spanish is the direct result of debate over illegal immigration.

That debate has turned into an attack on Latino culture and presence to a point of ad nauseam: Latinos are unpatriotic and do not value education. Latinos debase American society and values.

And those are the nicer attacks.

The same was said in previous generations of Irish, Jews, Germans, Italians, Poles, Chinese, Haitians, Cubans and other immigrants who came to this country legally and illegally.

The predecessors of today's immigration bullies failed presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, Arizona state Rep. Russell Pearce and television commentator Lou Dobbs attacked immigrants, accusing them of not wanting to learn English and of destroying American culture.

That is what, in part, the Pew report said.

It found slightly more than half of all Latino adults in the U.S. are fearful that someone close to them will be deported. Nearly 66 percent believe Congress' failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform has made life more difficult for Latinos. And some Latinos feel their lives are made more difficult by increasingly angry public rhetoric on immigration.

But this is just warmed-over history.

In the 1920s, tens of thousands of Mexicans were forcibly returned home at the hands of local and federal governments. A decade later, as the Great Depression gripped the country, an estimated 400,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were sent back across the border, many of them shipped in rail boxcars like cattle.

In the 1995 book "Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s," authors Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez estimated that nearly 1 million people of Mexican origin were "repatriated."

And the forced reverse migration continued in the 1950s, during the notorious "Operation Wetback."

Supposedly we've grown up as a country and will not repeat these ugly chapters. Instead, Latinos will face laws requiring proof of citizenship on demand and more suspicious, invasive questions.

Of course, many U.S.-born Latinos support the growing number of punitive legal and police enforcement measures aimed at undocumented immigrants in Arizona and other states.

But Latinos who cheer the efforts may think twice when the day comes they are denied a job, turned away at a public agency or stopped and asked about their citizenship because of their surname or their skin color hue.

● Contact columnist Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 573-4242 or eportillo@azstarnet.com. His blog is at go.azstarnet.com/blogs.