It happened on a late night Walmart run. We had all the kids with us and were making our chaotic way to the store from the parking lot. A car whipped around the corner, almost hitting us, and in a moment of great restraint I yelled "Watch it."
The car squealed into a parking spot beside us and a boy, about 12, jumped out of the car and said to H "GO BACK TO MEXICO!" We were kind of stunned, and angry of course. His mom got out and the smirk on her face made it clear that she had heard her son. We went into the store and H said "Hold on, I'm going to say something." When the woman and her son approached H walked up to her and said politely "Did you hear what your son said to me?"
"No." she answered, getting ready to put out attitude. She smirked at her son. We all knew she had heard.
"Well he told me to go back to Mexico." H said.
"So?" the woman answer while her son snickered.
"It would be like me telling you to go back to Africa."
"I'm not from Africa."
"How do you know I"m from Mexico?"
The woman walked off clearly missing the whole point. But her flippant disregard for seeing my husband as a person as opposed to a stereotype serves as a rather poignant object lesson: The immigration debate is all about race. People are not telling the white Eastern Europeans we know to go home. Nor the Canadians or the British. And amazingly enough I know at least one person from each of these groups who is here illegally.
When I drive through Gwinett and Barrow County here in Georgia, I usually see at least one car pulled over. Never once I have seen a white person pulled over yet I see white people speeding by me going at least 30 miles over the speed limit, running lights, and driving recklessly. But who do I see pulled over? The Hispanic guy with his truck full of lawn equipment. And he was usually the guy who was following the speed limit.
H and I hear stories. The guy we hired to do our lawn last time is a refuge from El Salvador. Yet he was ARRESTED because he "looked like" someone they were looking for. When they finally released him they told him he better go report to ICE even though he told them he was an refuge with legal status. These stories make it clear that someone is always watching...watching Hispanics. The stories become a kind of threat of violence, used to install fear and insecurity among people of a certain color. We hear them from both people who are documented and those who are undocumented.
And the problem is two fold. First, the reality is that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are not breaking the law. Many of those who are arrested have been here for many many years. They have families and communities who depend upon them. Arresting them has become a political warning, a threat that has no meaning because ICE is not rushing to deport these people. In addition, with the recent privatization of prisons someone is making a sweet penny through these actions. And the penny belongs to all the good tax payers who have their panties in a wad over illegal immigrants stealing something from them (what that is is questionable).
Second, the law ends up targeting all people with brown skin including those who are here with documents. My husband has been pulled over many more times than I, and I assure you he is by far a better driver than me. What has happened is that "Americanness" has become connected to a certain color and brown is not it. I am not a big fan of nationalism but I am a fan of fairness and this country belongs to brown people perhaps even more than it does to white people. These laws attempt to draw lines separating those who can claim a nationality and thus a sense of legitimacy.
I envision a world for my children when there are no artificial borders.
Hate is driving these reforms. Hate and Prejudice.