The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Race affects immigration policies

Sarah Mayer | Wednesday, October 17, 2007

United States’ immigration policies throughout the country’s history have been driven by racial ways of thinking, and minorities have been, and continue to be, repeatedly subjugated as a result of that mentality, professor Bill Ong Hing told a Saint Mary’s audience Tuesday.

The second speaker in the Saint Mary’s College diversity lecture series, Hing delivered the lecture “The History of Race and Political Beliefs in U.S. Immigration Policy” in the VanderVennet theatre in the basement of the student center.

Hing, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis told his audience that on September 11, 1998, eleven Mexican bodies were found after they attempted to cross the United States border. Following those first eleven, 4,000 more bodies were found later that year due to Operation Gateskeeper, the United States’ effort to reduce Mexican immigrants.

“Think back to September 11, three years later. Why do we not care as much about September 11, 1998?” Hing asked.

Hing said America doesn’t care as much about the 9/11 in 1998 because its victims were Mexican.

“What is your image of an American?” he asked the audience. He gave his listeners a chance to think about the question and then suggested most people were probably picturing a Caucasian person with Western European roots.

This tendency, he said, can be seen as the “white doll” mentality, which he illustrated with an example from the days of Brown v. Board of Education. During this time, whenever children were told to pick between a white doll and a black doll, both black and white children picked the white doll – the more socially acceptable and expected choice.

The problem, he said, is that the “white doll” mentality is still around today.

“Many Americans still feel that way and that is a problem,” Hing said.

Besides African-Americans and Hispanics, Hing said Chinese and Japanese people have also been subjected to prejudice as a result of their ethnicity.

In the post-Civil War era, America imported Chinese laborers to work on railroads and other construction projects – but there were quotas limiting the number of workers that could enter the country, in an effort to minimize the Asian representation in the local communities.

Chinese women were particularly limited to ensure the Chinese wouldn’t reproduce, Hing said.

A similar fear is palpable today, as many people fear the current influx of immigrants threatens American culture as people presently know it, he said.

“Many people think we are in the middle of the largest surge of immigrants right now and that is false,” Hing said.

He said the biggest rush of immigrants to enter America was from 1900-1910 and, interestingly, it was mostly southern Europeans. The consequences of that wave of immigrants, he said, included increased levels of illiteracy, which gave way to the literacy act of 1917. The legislation said that in order to enter the country, a person must be literate in at least one language.

So every wave of immigrants came with its pros and cons.

But to be against immigration today, he said, is driven mostly by racial concerns.