You hear it everywhere. Even from Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, author of the vicious anti-migrant legislation that has polarized the US. “We are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws,” he says.
And like almost everyone else, he’s got it wrong.
The original Europeans in what is now the US were not immigrants, but colonists. And the US is not a nation of immigrants -- it is a white colonial settler state, like South Africa under Apartheid, the former Rhodesia, Australia and Israel. Like those states the US has always operated on a sometimes hidden, sometimes overt system of Apartheid.
Like those places, the US is a nation of colonists -- and race laws.
It is a place where white colonists arrived, seized the land, and dispossessed, exterminated or attempted to exclude the original “non-white” peoples -- all of them.
They did so at the point of a gun -- by open terror and genocide, which was the precursor and the necessary pre-condition of European “immigration.” And, of course, they didn’t only use guns and overt terror. Where “necessary,” they operated by “law.”
Let me prove the point. It’s simple. We all know the facts.
In the US, Native Americans were dispossessed, subjected to mass murder, and locked on separate, Apartheid-style “reservations.” So it stands today.
Africans were enslaved, and once “freed,” they were subjected first to Jim Crow, then, when that proved no longer advisable, Jim Crow was transformed into the mass terror of mass incarceration and permanent Apartheid-style ghetto-ization. So it stands today.
The Indian nation of Mexico was conquered in a racist war of aggression by the US in 1848. The only debate in the days of “Manifest Destiny” was not whether to seize Mexican / Indian land, only how much of it to seize, and what to do to keep the Mexicans out of what had been stolen.
Two choices were before them. These were the terms of the debate: take the whole nation and lock the people on reservations, or take as much land -- with as few Mexicans -- as possible. Thus the border was established through a race war, through brute and overtly racist violence. The border is an Apartheid Wall. So it stands today.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States.
The Act claimed that “the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory” of the US -- the same racist rhetoric used today against other Brown people. Like HR4377, the current notorious immigration bill, the Chinese Exclusion Act made it illegal for “any Chinese laborer to come, or… to remain within the United States.” So it stands today. Only the immediate target of the law has changed.
Every group the US has sought to eliminate or exclude has been a people of color.
The logic is simple. Allow entry or citizenship for those who can be “assimilated” into the colonists’ culture -- those who can become loyal colonists themselves -- and exclude the “Other” -- those who are the targets of colonialism -- those whose land, cultures, bodies and souls must be sacrificed for the colonists to remain dominant and for their system to function.
Immigration law has always been race law in the US. As far back as 1790 the Federal government ruled that the right to become a naturalized citizen was reserved to "free white persons."
So it remained until 1952. Until then the Supreme Court repeatedly determined exactly which migrants might be considered “free” and “white,” as applicants of various ethnic backgrounds sought to become citizens.
Today, “The Nation of Immigrants” theme is struck to avoid the historical and cultural truth. Europeans -- who could be assimilated to colonial culture -- were allowed entrance en masse.
But there was a “stark division,” as Haney Lopez reminds us, based on skin color.
“This stark division necessarily also carried important connotations regarding, for example, agency, moral authority, intelligence, and belonging,” he writes. “To be unfit for naturalization -- that is, to be non-White -- implied a certain degeneracy of intellect, morals, self-restraint, and political values; to be suited for citizenship -- to be White -- suggested moral maturity, self assurance, personal independence, and political sophistication.”
In other words, those “unfit” for citizenship were the colonized. The description Lopez offers for the “unfit” matches precisely the characteristics ascribed to colonized peoples by European imperialists and settlers for hundreds of years.
It also matches the racist stereotypes offered today of immigrants from areas south of the US border with Mexico, who Congressman Sensenbrenner has referred to as degenerate “alien gang members terrorizing communities.”
But the racial subtext around immigration is not a subtext. It is the text itself.
Before Europe could “immigrate,” someone else had to be removed. Before there was land to settle it must be stolen. Before anyone could be “free and white” someone else had to be “non-white” -- and enslaved. Before “Americans” could become “Americans,” “Latin Americans” -- who are overwhelmingly Original Americans -- had to become something else -- “Latinos,” “Hispanic,” the not-Native -- the Alien.
The Illegal Alien
In a stunning bit of triple think the Natives, who knew no borders, became “Aliens,” while Europeans became “Americans,” and “Americans” became “Natives,” while the Original Americans became “foreign” infiltrators and lawbreakers bent on who-knows-what brand of “terrorism” against “innocent” colonists, or if you prefer, “Americans.” Or “Settlers.”
Or is it “Afrikaners.” Take your pick.
The Six Nations Confederation -- the Iroquois, or Hau De No Sau Nee -- wrote in their classic Basic Call to Consciousness that colonialism means “to be controlled from afar,” that “colonialism is the process by which we are systematically confused,” and that confusion is “an agent of control.”
“We are a nation of immigrants, and laws.”
But sometimes someone slips, forgets the double talk, and makes the agenda clear. They don’t mean for us to overhear, but they can’t help themselves.
In his mercilessly racist article Are We Really a Nation of Immigrants?, Lawrence Auster slips. He writes, “[T]hroughout its history the United States has been a member of Western civilization -- in religion overwhelmingly Christian… in race… overwhelmingly white, in language English. Why shouldn’t those little historical facts be at least as important in determining our immigration policy as the pseudo-fact that we’re all ‘descended from immigrants?’”
Auster, and David Horowitz’ Front Page Magazine, want one thing; they know what it is, and they’re willing to tell you. They want a white nation. They slipped.
The many who write diatribes and hate mail on the theme of “What part of ILLEGAL don’t you UNDERSTAND?!” also slip.
We understand “illegal” perfectly well.
Conquest of territory in wars of aggression is illegal under international law. The US occupation of most Native land and all of the occupied sections of Mexico is illegal. The presence of the conquering people, the usurpation of the land itself is illegal. The colonists themselves are illegal aliens.
But, for the Right, it’s not really about some imaginary adherence to a just, neutral system of “law.”
It’s about race law and white privilege.
And race law, codified on paper or not, is deeply codified in white people’s expectations about their place in society, and some of them are getting dangerously edgy about having “their” land -- their turf -- stepped on by Brown people.
On the web site of the anti-Mexican hate group Save Our State, correspondents calling themselves “USA Today” write:
To be honest we are heading for a Balkanization and a racial cleansing.
I know its not politically correct to say so but I think lots of folks see it coming and I'll bet the vast majority of Americans would have no problem with genocide as a last resort to save this country, Usually when you back somebody into a corner they will defend themselves by any means ... get it?
Does this sound like something you would hear the Nazis say? Sure it is but I spend lots of time scanning the forums and blogs and its coming from normal, everyday people that are just about fed up with the whole mess.
I know a large number of Germans didn't agree with Hitler but they didn't exactly act against him either.
Just keep pushing and pretty soon you'll find the American people in a corner.
On that day, Beware.
People who think like this are the social, cultural and political base of politicians like Jim Sensenbrenner.
They are classic colonists, with the colonizer’s outlook. For them, mere “immigration” is impossible. Their “forefathers” conquered the land, so those coming here must be out to “re-conquer” the land -- to take it back from them.
These are the true inheritors of the American Dream, a dream which, for the colonized, has been nothing but a nightmare. They intend to defend that nightmare -- no matter what it takes.
That’s what “immigration reform” and “immigration control” are really all about. Colonialism. And the race laws that defend it.
Juan Santos is editor of Mexica Tlahtolli, a Chicana/o-Native American newspaper in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: JuanSantos@Mexica.net.
Other Articles by Juan Santos