The rapid escalation of U.S. anti-immigration hysteria—fueled by ratings-hungry cable-television hotheads and leading Republican presidential hopefuls—is a dangerous trend: It may lead to a Latino intifada with the potential to rock this nation in the not-so-distant future.
Remember the Palestinian intifada of the early 1990s, when thousands of frustrated young Palestinians took to the streets and threw stones at Israeli troops? Remember the French intifada of the summer of 2005, in which disenfranchised Muslim youths burned cars and stores in the suburbs of Paris?
If we are not careful, we may see something similar coming from the estimated 13 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, most of them Latino, who are increasingly vilified in the media, forced further into the underground by spineless politicians and not given any chance to legalize their status by a pusillanimous U.S. Congress.
We are creating an underclass of people who won’t leave this country and, realistically, can’t be deported. They and their children are living with no prospect of earning a legal status, no matter how hard they work for it. Many of them will become increasingly frustrated, angry, and some of them eventually may turn violent.
There are an estimated 1.8 million children in the United States who are growing up like other American kids, often speak no language other than English, but don’t have legal documents, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. They are denied in-state college tuition fees or scholarships that are available to legal U.S. residents, and are eventually thrown into a labor market where they are barred from being employed.
Further, the Bush administration-backed escalation of raids against undocumented workers in factories, the increase of city ordinances prohibiting people from leasing apartments to undocumented immigrants, and the overt xenophobia spilling daily from Latino-phobic radio and cable-television shows will leave their mark on these and other children in immigrant communities.
Carrying out enforcement-only policies, labeling undocumented workers as “illegals” and depriving them of hope for upward mobility—rather than working toward greater economic cooperation with Latin America to reduce migration pressures—is not only wrong, but dangerous. The millions of undocumented among us will not leave. They will only get angrier.