The Grassroot Latino Concern About Immigration

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on July 25, 2011

As President Obama addresses the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza today in Washington, he will face renewed pressure to push for “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation that would not only provide legal status to illegal immigrants but expand future immigration from Latin America and other parts of the world.

But as Obama confronts that pressure from the Latino political class, and as the economy continues to struggle with its inability to put millions of Americans to work, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that grassroots Latinos have a long history of unease about the continuous waves of immigration.

Mexican-American historian David C. Gutierrez wrote about their concern in his 1995 book, Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity:

My family griped about many different aspects of immigration, but their most common complaints were that Mexican wetbacks or illegals, as they often called them, were displacing Mexican American workers, depressing wages, and undermining union-organizing efforts. More important, from their point of view, the mass immigration of so-called backward, un-Americanized illegal aliens reinforced the negative stereotypes Anglo Americans s held about all Mexicans, regardless of citizenship status, including those, like my family, who had lived in the United States for many generations.

Gutierrez goes on to note that:

Other Mexican Americans have maintained very different opinions about the immigration controversy . . . (believing) that the affinities between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants based on ties of culture, kinship, and friendship are much more important than any differences that divide them.

In 2004, Mexican-Americans in Arizona provided more evidence of the split. This time the metric was the voter turnout on Proposition 200, a ballot measure intended to deny state services to illegal immigrants.

Even after a well financed campaign that branded the proposition as anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant, Proposition 200 passed easily and exit polls showed that 47 percent of Latino voters approved of the measure.

That vote was widely perceived as a measure of the frustration that Mexican American citizens felt about the wave of illegal immigration that saw the state’s “undocumented” population swell from an estimated 88,000 in 1990 to 300,000 in 2000. (Subsequently it peaked at 560,000 in 2007, before dropping off to 470,000 in 2010, according to estimates of the Department of Homeland Security).

Topics: UnidosUS