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The GW Hatchet


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The GW Hatchet

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Perspective: What anti-immigrant rhetoric costs us

The name of Calexico, California — my hometown — serves it right. A combination of the words California and Mexico, Calexico sits on the U.S.-Mexico border and is deeply intertwined with both countries. Mexicali, Baja California, is only 15 minutes away.

And according to Donald Trump, 15 minutes is enough to determine what makes a person a “person.” At a rally before the Ohio U.S. Senate primary election last month, the former president talked about undocumented immigrants who are accused of crimes. “They’re not people, in my opinion,” he said, even calling them “animals” later in his speech.

I grew up watching the dehumanization of immigrants from multiple outlets. In his State of the Union address last month, President Joe Biden called an immigrant “an illegal.” That bothered me, but Trump’s rhetoric about the “poisoning of the blood” of the country takes it to another level. His latest words confirmed how immigrants are seen and how they will never truly be accepted in this country.

Border officials have said most people who cross the U.S. border are families seeking security, and research shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born Americans while in the country.

My family members are immigrants. My grandparents crossed illegally to the U.S. half a century ago, back when there wasn’t even a physical wall between Calexico and Mexicali. Before my father met my mother, he also tried to cross the border illegally but gained his citizenship when he married my mom. My grandparents eventually earned their citizenship, but half of my family still cannot cross.

Calexico’s community is 97.8 percent Hispanic or Latino. The idea that a “border” makes me or my parents different from our family in Mexico is ridiculous. It’s why I never thought I was more human than anyone who lived the next city over — or anyone who wanted to better their lives by crossing the border.

I grew up in cars waiting to cross back to the U.S. after visiting my family, watching while groups of men tried to climb the fence. While I understood this was technically against the law, I never thought of them as “animals” or “vermin,” as Trump has referred to migrants in the past.

I still remember the rude awakening I received from my English teacher about the difference between what is legal and what is moral. I was 14 years old when she asked us: If we saw an undocumented immigrant on the side of the road, dying, would we help them?

It can be illegal to do so, but it would be immoral not to.

The example she gave was a very real possibility. We were right next to the border, and it could happen to any of us. It was one of the first times that I understood the uglier side of being both Mexican and American and growing up next to the border.

My citizenship came at a price: dehumanizing anyone who tried to do what my grandparents did decades ago. To be a law-abiding American, I had to be a hypocrite and forget my family did the same thing and had to treat them like I was different from them. The price of my citizenship is forgetting I am also Mexican. Being American means forgetting to see people as people.

I also remember the day my mom and I were shopping downtown, less than a 10-minute walk from Mexico. I was about 12 years old, holding a couple of grocery bags, when suddenly I heard a teenage boy screaming and crying. I turned and saw him running down the street as a U.S. Border Patrol officer chased after him, baton in hand.

I froze, sick to my stomach. He was no older than 16 or 17. Everyone around me was just as frozen. I looked up at my mom, hoping she could take this feeling away from my stomach. All she said was, “He’s just a kid.”

I recall when I was 10 years old and in my phase of reading everything aloud. While we were crossing the border from Mexico, one of the signs listed things that were illegal to bring into the U.S. When I read “It’s illegal to smuggle aliens …,” I looked excitedly to my mom. They confirmed that aliens were real!

With a sullen expression, she explained that “aliens” referred to undocumented immigrants. As a child, I remember thinking how wrong the word felt in my mouth, how wrong it felt to call a human being that as if they were otherworldly — not a person, an unknown species.

By Trump’s standards of “not people,” my family and millions of documented immigrants in the U.S. technically have nothing to worry about. But when he or anyone else says that undocumented immigrants aren’t human, or are “animals” or “vermin,” I won’t think of the quarter of immigrants in the U.S. that are undocumented. I will think of all 46.2 million immigrants in the country, including myself and my family.

Just like I never thought that 15 minutes made me different from the rest of my family, I don’t believe a piece of paper makes a difference either. Something as arbitrary as distance or nationality does not define one’s humanity.

This isn’t a piece arguing about immigration laws or policies. It’s about the weight of Trump’s words or anyone who makes similar comments. We must understand how dehumanizing this is to millions of people: This is the person who might be in charge of our country — again.

Andrea Mendoza-Melchor, a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.

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