December 8, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 39°F


Race governs immigration

From the Statue of Liberty to its “melting pot” metaphor, the United States continues to project itself as a beacon of hope for immigrants. But the heavily armed U.S.-Mexico border is anything but hopeful for Hispanics.

The U.S. has witnessed an exceptional number of harsh anti-immigration laws in the past two years, most of which has been directly tied to the Hispanic community. In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, a law requiring police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspected to be in the country illegally. Critics of the bill dubbed it an act of racial profiling, which has kept it tied up in the 9th U.S. District Court as it determines the bill’s constitutionality.

Subsequently, four states enacted similar legislation, including Alabama, whose infamous HB 56 was the first law to enforce its anti-immigration provisions. Like its Arizonian counterpart, the law has been intensely debated and subjected to multiple judicial reviews. Many have reported that Alabama is on the brink of an exodus, as Hispanic citizens flee the state to escape its crackdown on anyone who “looks” undocumented.

What matters in this entire debacle is not the legal justification behind each bill, it’s the complex racist structures that underscore such broad-sweeping laws. Governors, lawyers and police officers tend to reference “national security” as the reason behind their forceful measures. President Obama even emphasized his focus on “criminal” activity in reference to immigration after deporting just under 400,000 people last year.

But how exactly massive deportation and racial profiling protects us from confronting our racism is still unclear. As the targets of visual judgment, anyone who “looks” undocumented faces a moment of widely accepted stereotyping.

People of all racial backgrounds flock to the U.S. for different reasons, many of which stem from globalized poverty and warfare. Our illusion of the “dangerous” Mexican immigrant is not only inherently racist, but also narrow-minded, as it groups all races faced with immigration problems — from Pakistanis to Somalis — together under the scope of specific U.S.-Mexico relations.

To bundle these circumstances together as “national security” reproduces a framework that renders undocumented workers the evildoers in an economy where most of the devastation stems from concentrated power and wealth. And if we only focus on legal technicalities, the situation may be exacerbated. To curb unjust immigration laws from materializing in the future, we need to admit that race plays the biggest role in creating such problems — not the specific law.

Chris Zivalich is a senior journalism major. Email him at