The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has historically been a force of abuse and denigration towards Latino immigrants, most notably in the era of Trump’s anti-immigrant fear mongering. This made it more surprising when a recent article from the Los Angeles Times revealed that the U.S. Border Patrol is made up of 50 percent Latinos.
Why would any Latino in the U.S. choose to be part of a problematic force for Latino immigrants and, consequently, Latino Americans?
This data, considering the demographic of border towns, is not surprising. CBP is one of the largest employers within border areas and for many Latinos in border towns who seek employment at CBP as a necessity.
Positions in the CBP are considered an accessible means towards a middle class lifestyle, a particularly coveted status along the border, where unemployment levels are significantly higher than elsewhere in the country. Furthermore, bilingual Latinos are an advantage within the force when communicating with a majority of solely Spanish-speaking immigrants.
Latinos in border patrol, however, are criticized for their decision, and rightly so. Patrol forces interviewed in the LA Times article justify their work out of duty to their country and its law. When accused of being “disloyal” to their culture, they say their culture is the American one. Their way of separating themselves from their ethnic identity and culture is an attempt at assimilating to the narrative of America. In other words, it’s a way of fitting in with a system that actively excludes Latinos legally and nationally.
The simple fact that Latinos must separate their ethnic and cultural identity in order to fit in with the American narrative proves that our legal system is not, and never was, built to include Latinos.
As Trump plans to further militarize the border by adding thousands of National Guard troops to work for CBP, the vilification of immigrants only continues to grow in our government and in our communities. Rhetoric based on fear and discrimination is a foundation of our legal system, from the “Operation Wetback” mission in 1954 that led to violent deportations of Mexican workers to today’s militarization of the border. And Latino Americans cannot overlook the issue by separating themselves from these laws.
Though immigration laws may not appear to have an effect on Latino Americans, we cannot forget that the Latino experience in the U.S. is inherently a political one. The criminalization of Latino immigrants since the start of Trump’s campaign was an indirect attack on all Latinos in the U.S., where U.S.-born Latinos experience more discrimination than undocumented immigrants, as data shows. The social landscape for Latinos in the U.S., regardless of citizenship or legal status, is much the same.
David Gutierrez, author of “Walls and Mirrors,” takes an in depth analysis into the politics of ethnicity for both Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants in the U.S.
“[Immigration] dragnets not only were affecting putative illegal aliens,” Gutierrez wrote, “but also were devastating Mexican American families, disrupting businesses in Mexican neighborhoods, and fanning interethnic animosities throughout the border region.” He wrote this about the social landscape Latinos faced at the height of “Operation Wetback.”
Perhaps some Latino Americans see no shared qualities between themselves and Latino immigrants, but the issues that face one group ultimately affect the other in this country.
As they separate their work life from their personal life, their ethnic identity from national identity, Latino Americans gradually attempt to distant themselves from the Latino experience altogether. Consciously or not, this is just another way of slowly molding into the ideology that our current president capitalizes on. An ideology where words like protection and security are only used to disguise discrimination towards and vilification of all Latinos.
Whether you believe that Latinos serving CBP are hypocrites, patriotists, loyal, or disloyal to either side, the fact that Latinos must distance themselves from part of their identity only points to the failure of our nation by excluding Latinos within a preferential system.