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The Brown Berets on Immigration

Human migration is a phenomenon as old as humanity.
The Brown Berets on Immigration
By Ramiro Medrano

Human migration is a phenomenon as old as humanity. Throughout the ages humans have been known to migrate extensively all over the world. Indeed, it is migration which created human isolation and is therefore responsible for our current genetic differences and the makeup of the world today. One of the main theories in explaining the populating of Turtle Island is through migration of Asians along a temporary land bridge called the Bering Strait, although this theory is currently under much scrutiny.

Our gente are a historically migrating people. Every time we look at the official Mexican flag, or interchangeably the panquetzalli which is the flag the Aztecs used, we should be reminded of out migrating history, for that is what these symbols represent. The official story tells us the Aztecs (or Mexicah) followed their "god" Huizilopochtli's orders to migrate south out of their current home, Aztlan, in search of an eagle devouring a serpent, perched on a cactus in the middle of a lake. Although the story is a metaphor, the migration did indeed happen. It took the Aztecs seven generations to reach their destination: Lake Texcoco, where they would build the beautiful Tenochtitlan, which would then become modern-day Mexico City. There should be no confusion as to our migrating nature as it is depicted in our most representative emblems and symbols.

United States Immigration History

The United States as a country was founded by European immigrants fleeing political or religious persecution, and done on the backs of a population which were victims of a different form of migration: forced migration. Africans were bought and sold as slaves for centuries after the colonization of Africa by initially the Portuguese, and afterwards by all other European imperialist nations. Migration has continued all throughout history until modern times, despite the strong objection to it by modern-day nation-states, or at least the objection to migration done without the relatively new notion of proper legal immigration proceedings.

Although Turtle Island was already populated by a diverse people, Europeans insisted in an indiscriminate migration to these lands and in the settlement and foundation of cities and states, establishing their own laws, decimating the native people, and pushing those who were left out of their own lands (see the Trail of Tears, for example). The rise of Capitalism created the concept of private property, then establishing borders and the regularization of human traffic within these borders.

In the year 1776, the United States of America was created as a "free sovereign nation" by white Europeans usually native to Great Britain, but also from other European countries. In the year 1790, the Naturalization Act was created, which decreed "any free white alien" to become U.S. citizens simply for being "white" as European immigration continued. Between 1846 and 1940, 55 million people emigrated from Europe to America, 65% of whose destination was the United States. In the same period, 2.5 million people emigrated from Asia to the U.S.

In 1848, the United States, under the leadership of U.S. President James K. Polk, stole over half of the Mexican territory, physically fulfilling the imperialistic vision of Manifest Destiny "from sea to shining sea." Immigration of whites into Texas, along with unstable politics in Mexico, pushed for the cession of Texas from Mexico, creating hostilities between the Mexican and U.S. governments once Texas was annexed by the U.S. in 1845. Land disputes between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande area in Texas led President Polk to send troops under General Zachary Taylor to the disputed land in hopes to prompt a response from the Mexican Government and use it as a pretext to war. This effectively led to the Mexican-American War, where the states of California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and part of Wyoming were annexed by the United States. This automatically turned many Mexicans into second-class citizens, and the Gold Rush Era of 1849 in California increased the migration of many different people, but mainly white, to the now United State's west coast. Thousands of Mexican families were disenfranchised and chased out of their own lands. The majority of them never became citizens, and hangings were common all throughout the "U.S. Southwest" throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Gold Rush and the construction of railroads in California brought many different immigrants in search of gold, including Chinese workers. In response to the "Chinese threat," the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which severely limited the migration of Chinese workers to the United States and converted the Chinese, and many other Asians already living in the U.S., into prey of many white racists. In addition, California passed the Foreign Miner's Tax targeted at decreasing Chinese and other migration into the state. The late 1800's saw much racism and xenophobia, especially against Mexicans and Chinese, leading to public lynching, hangings, massacres, and full-blown Caucasian race riots.

It was in the late 1800's that the Eugenics movement was created by Sir Francis Galton, who believed in the racist notion that human hereditary traits could be changed and "improved" by various forms of intervention, obviously believing the "white traits" to be superior to the rest. Eugenics was used to justify the many discriminatory policies that many white nation-states adopted against other races. It is widely believed that the AIDS virus is linked to eugenics scientists, as well as segregation, birth control (forced sterilization, see Planned Parenthood), and the killing of institutionalized, or handicapped, people. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were wide supporters of eugenics and the Racial Hygiene Theory, as well as other prominent figures like Winston Churchill and Alexander Graham Bell. Eugenics was an academic field which received much support from different prominent organizations, such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Institute. Nazis claimed the United States as inspiration in its wide acceptance of eugenics.

The widely used "illegal alien" concept stems from the eugenics movement in order to deem any non-white foreigner an "undesirable" and therefore an "illegal alien." This concept is racist not because of the word "alien," but because it deems a person "illegal." Historically, the word "illegal" is used as an adjective to describe an action, for example, "she made an illegal gesture." But since eugenics deemed people other-than-white inferior, then the usage of "illegal" shifted from being used as an adjective, to being used as a noun (for example, "he is an illegal") to discriminate and separate "undesirables" from U.S. society. Because of widespread war and destruction during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the forced modernization of Mexico, many Mexicans migrated to the United States in large numbers, prompting more waves of racist anti-immigrant laws and sentiment in the United States. The Immigration Act of 1924 was a victory to American eugenicists and included restrictions on immigration of various foreigners, including Europeans "of a lesser race" from Eastern and Southern Europe, including Irish and Italian.

In 1929, the U.S. experienced the era of the Great Depression, prompting the rounding and deportation of many Mexicans back to Mexico, many of who were U.S. citizens. It was around this time that U.S. society saw the prominence of many White Power organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion, who blamed "foreigners" and other races for their country's condition. The Great Depression was quickly followed by World War II against mainly Nazi Germany and Japan, once again prompting racist policies of detaining and incarcerating Japanese people simply for being Japanese. Ironically, in dire need of a strong labor force and in response to their shortage of workers due to the war, the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed in creating a Bracero Program in 1942 which lasted until 1964 and brought thousands of Mexican migrant workers into the U.S. to help the American economy recover. It was until 1965 that all immigration laws determined by race were nullified.

Contemporary Immigration

In the 1970's, around 477,000 Mexicans were living in the United States. It is in the 1980's, with U.S.-educated neoliberal Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid, that Mexico changed its course of being a mainly primary country (subsisting on agriculture and industry associated with it) to an attempted "modernization" of Mexico and the subsequent destruction of the agricultural industry. The next Mexican president, also educated in the United States, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, destroyed Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution and with it the ejido system, and signed, along with Bush Sr. and then Clinton, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. The process of neoliberalization, commenced in the early eighties, had its toll on Mexicans and increased migration out of Mexico into the United States. By 1990, figures of Mexicans living in the United States increased to more than 4.5 million, and in 2000 this figure doubled, reaching almost 9 million Mexicans living in the U.S.

It is evident the United States Government foresaw the impact that NAFTA would have on the people of Mexico. In 1993, less than a year before signing NAFTA into effect, yet one year after initially signing NAFTA into official law, the U.S. Border Patrol began a border campaign in Texas titled Operation Hold the Line. In 1994, the year NAFTA began, la migra also started the California border campaign titled Operation Gatekeeper. These two operations have prompted undocumented migrant people to cross the deadly, racist U.S.-Mexico border through hardcore Arizonan desert, increasing the deaths along the border. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Border Patrol had not reported any deaths along the border prior to 1994. After 1995, border deaths steadily increased until reaching the staggering figure of over 500 deaths in 2005.

We Have a Right

In accordance with history, we, as descendants of a people who are intricately connected to all the native people of this hemisphere as well as to these lands, do not believe we are "immigrants" in our own lands, but migrant people who have always traveled back and forth without considering artificial borderlines or governmental decrees. Not only in a historical, but in a contemporary sense do we have the right to pursue happiness, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, which was signed by the United States in 1946. Our massive exodus as a people across racist borderlines are in direct result of U.S. foreign policy, namely neoliberal politics pushed by the ever-increasing shadow of capitalism and free-market theories, creating policies such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), NAFTA, Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP), and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), among others, which create a very heavy burden on the Mexican (and other countries') working-class and exploit the natural resources so needed to live a decent lifestyle. We denounce any attempt to regulate the migration of people into any country without first creating equality among classes all around the world. We are aware it is capitalism which is the base of many ills all around the world, and we actively denounce it as long as it means ill will towards other people and profit over everything else. Although realistically, "immigration reform" is needed to help the people already living in the United States stay here, we believe the "immigration debate" needs to shift its focus to include mainly a debate about U.S. foreign policy and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, all around the world. We need to eliminate racist and exclusive concepts such as "illegal aliens" or "illegal immigrants" from our minds and learn the history behind immigration and why people migrate out of their home countries before pointing fingers and unfairly target mainly defenseless people as a direct result of our incompetence and stupidity. We need to fight against fascist immigration raids anywhere they pop-up and realize that there are more ties to racist history in the immigration debate other than these Gestapo-type terrorist attacks on our communities. Until fairness and equality exists around the world, until racism ceases to exist and true diversity is embraced, until then will we see a change in migration patterns and until then will "legal immigration" be a more viable option for many people around the world.

Until then, fuck all racist immigration laws! We will not cease to pursue a better life for our seeds! We are the people, and we will never be stopped! This is our land, and it is our right to exist!

Watsonville Autonomous Brown Beret Chapter