Time and time again recent efforts to consider and pass comprehensive immigration legislation have been either stalled or blocked. Deferred Action for individuals that arrived in the United States as children is continuously threatened (to be defunded) and the House has yet to consider even piecemeal immigration reform.
Today, Nancy Pelosi stated that “race has something to do with delay in immigration” (The Huffington Post April 10, 2014). Her comments point to an issue that is at the heart of what American politics has been about. Pelosi’s comments remind us that race remains a pivotal force driving politics and shaping institutions in the US. Race has played a central role in how social policies from housing and social security have been passed and implemented in the United States. Racial identity itself has driven by federal policies. Immigration policies are no exception, helping shape US demographics that maintained a population of immigrants from European countries the majority (Origins Quota Act), thus solidifying a white identity to a legal requirement of whiteness as a per-requisite for naturalization. (See M. Ngai’s “Impossible Subjects”).
The inflammatory racial language that has been employed throughout the current immigration debate is illustrative of the dominant stereotypes and other biases that exist regarding race and mostly targeted at Latino immigrants.
Pro-immigration advocates focus on the contributions of immigrants and highlight the archetype of the ideal immigrant pursuing the American dream: the hardworking, law abiding, tax payer with strong family values. While positive, this image does not challenge the dominant and racially charged perceptions of the immigrant takes more than it contributes. This understanding and racial preconception of immigrants helps justify anti-immigrant stances and appeals to a US sense of virtue and goodness that is supposed to be the American way. This is what drives racial politics. Continuing to ignore the ways in which race has shaped policies towards people of color in the US is not doing anything to advance the pro-immigration stance. Is it time to bring race back into the conversation?