Aoki Seminar Fall 2019 - Dean Kevin Johnson: Trump’s Latinx Repatriation_10/22/2019

Trump’s Latinx Repatriation Dean Kevin Johnson Two historical episodes have indelibly influenced the development of Latinx identity and sense of belonging in the United States. During the Great Depression, state and local governments, with the support of the U.S. government, repatriated approximately one million persons of Mexican ancestry, including many U.S. citizen children as well as immigrant parents, to Mexico. Similarly, in 1954, the U.S. government launched Operation Wetback, a military-style campaign led by a retired general that removed another one million persons of Mexican ancestry, including many U.S. citizen children, from the Southwest. History rightly condemns these episodes of anti-Mexican intolerance, which amount to an ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, we may be seeing history repeat itself with even greater harm inflicted on larger numbers of Latinx peoples. Through breathtaking and unprecedented changes in immigration law and enforcement, President Donald J. Trump has boldly moved to reduce immigration to, and the number of immigrants in, the United States. This Article contends that, as part and parcel of his fervent anti-immigrant agenda, President Trump is engaging in a concerted effort to remove Latinx people, especially Mexicans and Central Americans, from the country. Just as the previous Mexican removal campaigns did, the new Latinx repatriation accomplishes mass removals and encourages Latinx noncitizens, along with U.S. citizen children, to leave the country and self-deport, or, alternatively, to never come to the United States in the first place. But the new Latinx repatriation differs in important respects from the old removal campaigns. First, the new system is facially-neutral and colorblind, not expressly targeting Latinx people. That is the case even though President Trump’s words frequently—and mercilessly—attack Latinx immigrants. Second, through President Trump’s policy efforts, the new repatriation has become institutionalized into the ordinary operation of immigration enforcement, which differs from the ad hoc and episodic nature of the Mexican repatriation and Operation Wetback. With the targeting of Latinx immigrants embedded in the institutional structure of immigration enforcement, one can expect many more Latinx noncitizens to be removed than in previous Mexican removal campaigns. Ultimately, meaningful change to the racial discrimination in immigration law and enforcement can only be addressed through political action and congressional reform of the immigration laws. To do so, we must acknowledge and address head-on the racial impacts of the operation of the immigration laws and their enforcement. An awareness of the racialized nature of the problem is a precursor to bringing racial justice to immigration. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Dean and Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies, University of California at Davis, School of Law; A.B., University of California, Berkeley; J.D., Harvard University. This paper was prepared for the UCLA Law Review “Latinos, Bias, and the Criminal Justice System” symposium in February 2019. Thanks to Jennifer M. Chacón for inviting me to participate in the conference. Thanks also to the UCLA Law Review and the faculty sponsors of the conference, Devon Carbado, Jennifer M. Chacón, Sheri Johnson, and Sherod Thaxton, for organizing a pathbreaking event. Comments from participants in the symposium as well as those of participants in a workshop of this paper organized by the UCLA Center for the Study of International Migration, especially Amada Armenta and Chris Zepeda, greatly improved this paper. Last but not least, thank you to Roger Waldinger for the workshop opportunity. Ariahna Sanchez, UC Davis School of Law Class of 2020, provided helpful research assistance.