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Excerpted From: Cristina A. Quiñónez, Exposing the American History of Applying Racial Anxieties to Regulate and Devalue Latinx Immigrant Reproductive Rights, 54 University of San Francisco Law Review 557 (2020) (Student Comment) (232 Footnotes) (Full Document)

NATIONALISTS ACT ON RACIAL ANXIETIES to oppress the reproductive rights of Latinx immigrants. The term “racial anxieties” refers to increased stress levels and emotions that occur when individuals interact with people of other races. Racial anxieties can affect the daily lives of individuals of all races--while some people may be subjected to discrimination and hostility caused by racial anxieties, others can be accused of spreading racial anxieties themselves. The fears and emotions that stem from racial anxieties can be small and subtle or overbearing and pervasive.

Recently, President Donald J. Trump has ignited racial anxieties in the American public and created immigration policies and procedures that target Latinx immigrants who make the reproductive choices to give birth and come to the United States with their children. The President implemented the “Zero Tolerance Policy” that criminally prosecutes and detains all individuals, including pregnant immigrant women, who illegally enter the United States along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Under the Obama administration, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) officers generally avoided detaining pregnant women unless they had a serious criminal history or extraordinary circumstances. Now, under President Trump's Zero Tolerance Policy, pregnant women can be detained up to their third trimester, and reports indicate they may even be shackled while transported to and from detention centers. Detention centers are not equipped to handle the medical care pregnant women need and therefore put pregnant immigrant women and their unborn children in grave danger. Detaining pregnant women is a form of reproductive oppression of Latinx immigrant women designed to deter them from entering the United States to give birth.

The Trump administration's immigration policies and procedures devalue Latinx immigrants' fundamental rights to keep their families together in order to deter them from entering the United States. President Trump used nationalist fears to forcibly separate Latinx immigrant families along the United States-Mexico border, thereby denying their fundamental right to have custody of their children and keep their families together. The federal government has reported that nearly 3000 immigrant children were forcibly separated from their parents and placed into foster care or detention centers in 2018 under President Trump's Zero Tolerance Policy. However, before a federal court ordered the government to account for all migrants entering the United States, reports show that thousands more children had been separated from their parents since 2017. Due to the lack of a formal government tracking system, the total number of immigrant children separated from their parents by immigration authorities is unknown. As of April 2019, the Trump administration asked for a two-year deadline to identify immigrant children and reunify them with their parents.

On January 22, 2020, nine parents who were deported and separated from their children in the United States as a result of the Trump administration's separation policy were allowed to return to reunite with their children--they had not seen them since 2018. Unfortunately, these nine parents are only a small percentage of the potentially thousands of other parents and children who are still separated after the implementation of the Zero Tolerance Policy along the southern border.

The current immigration policies and procedures of policing, denying, and oppressing Latinx women in the United States are not new and follow a long history of pathologizing and regulating their reproductive capabilities.

B. American History of Applying Racial Anxieties to Regulate Latinx Immigrant Reproduction

The migration waves of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century ignited nationalist fears and spread racial anxieties directed toward certain minority groups in the United States. Throughout United States history, American-born children and grandchildren of immigrants feared that new incoming immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and the Northern Triangle-- comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras--would deface and ruin the American culture by creating a melting pot. New incoming immigrants were automatically seen as an imminent threat to society because immigrants were more likely to keep their culture's traditions rather than assimilate to American traditions and lifestyles. The rapidly growing rate of the Latinx population in the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries furthered nationalist fears that Latinx immigrants would soon take control of American society and eliminate the moral and economic identity of United States culture. Nationalists argue that Latinx immigrants blatantly refuse to fully assimilate to the American lifestyle because they take pride in their culture and chose to preserve their native languages and customs. In response to the refusal to assimilate to American culture, nationalists spread racial anxieties by targeting the Latinx immigrant population and openly demeaning their existence in society by creating and implementing Americanization programs along the southern border.

Americanization programs were created to ease the transition for recently arrived, primarily Latinx immigrants in towns along the southern border. These programs offered English learning and American cooking classes so immigrants could part ways from their native customs and embrace the American culture. The American public wanted to eliminate any obvious differences between Americans and immigrants. More importantly, the Americanization programs sought to deter immigrant women from having larger families. These efforts to transform the reproductive ideas and behavior of Latinx immigrants were clearly motivated by nationalist fears of American race suicide. American race suicide is the theory that the large number immigrants with different cultures and traditions who come to the United States and reproduce will overpower the cultures and traditions of the American race. Though white Anglo-Saxon Protestant immigrants have been strongly preferred as the “ideal immigrants” because they physically blended into American society easily, were more willing to part from their native traditions, generally had smaller families, and contributed more economically to society compared to Latinx immigrants.

Americans with racial anxieties have defined white families as superior to reproduce the American race and defined minorities, including Latinx immigrants, as socially undesirable to reproduce in part because of their assumed dependency on state benefits. Social institutions and the American public devalued the reproductive capabilities of Mexican and Latinx immigrant women. Mexican women were not seen as loving mothers with large families. Rather, they were depicted as breeders and a threat to society. Therefore, proponents of this view have felt entitled to control the Latinx immigrant population for the safety of the American public by regulating and oppressing their reproductive rights.

Historically, private actors, specifically doctors and judges, acted on their own racial anxieties and denied Mexican American women their fundamental right to procreate by forcibly sterilizing them without their informed consent. They abused their professional roles in society by giving into their fears of hyper-fertile Latinx immigrant women and the rapidly growing Latinx population.

Public officials have used racial anxieties toward the Latinx immigrant population to address and combat immigration policies and procedures along the southern border. California Proposition 187, the “Save Our State Initiative,” was designed to deny undocumented immigrants access to public education and health care services on the notion that Latinx immigrants were opportunists who depleted public services from the American public. Proposition 187 provided the opportunity for citizens to act as police officers of the state and target Latinx individuals who appeared undocumented. Proponents of this proposition constantly referred to the hyper-sexuality and hyper-fertility of Latinx immigrant women as a primary issue with immigration from Mexico. The Save Our State Initiative strongly referred to the “allure of social benefits” as the driving factor for Latinx immigrant women who migrated to the United States so their children can have access to such benefits as United States citizens.

Section II of this Comment further defines racial anxiety and exemplifies how it has been historically used to pathologize and control Latinx reproduction in the United States. Section III discusses the current administration's immigration policies and procedures motivated by racial anxieties and designed to target the Latinx immigrant population and their reproductive rights. This Comment concludes by calling for solutions to end the use of racial anxieties in immigration policies and procedures--racial anxieties that have worked to regulate Latinx reproduction thereby denying them their fundamental rights to procreate and to keep their families together.

[. . .]

President Trump and his administration's Zero Tolerance and Remain in Mexico policies are clear attacks against Latinx immigrant families fleeing violence and poverty in their native countries. These policies are driven by hate and racial anxieties that create animosity within American society toward Latinx immigrants. Instead of requiring asylum seekers to remain in dangerous parts of Mexico and putting them at risk of further harm, the United States government and Department of Homeland Security should open more jobs for asylum officers to process immigrants at the border, thereby eliminating the credible fear interviews and long visa processing times. For individuals who do not pass their initial asylum interviews, they can be processed into formal immigration court proceedings where they will have their right to be heard by an immigration judge.

Latinx immigrants are human beings. They are not “animals,” and they deserve to be treated as fairly as their white counterparts.

Cristina A. Quiñónez, J.D. Candidate, University of San Francisco School of Law; Criminal Justice and Latino/a Studies, B.A., San Francisco State University (2016).

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