The Paranoia Cha Cha

Recently, I wrote about the fear and loathing that many Americans have for immigrants in general and for Latino immigrants in particular.


Hispanic immigrants are, to hear some people talk, hell-bent on bringing death and destruction across the border. Well, as we all know (or should know), immigration — both legal and undocumented — is way down over the past few years. So that surge at the border is greatly exaggerated.

Furthermore, numerous studies have found that “immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated.”

The nativist ignores that part about “regardless of nationality or legal status,” and says, “Well, sure. Those good immigrants from Europe and maybe India aren’t committing crimes. It’s the illegals!”

Sorry, but the data shows that while the undocumented population more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent. And violent crime continues to go down across America.

In addition, a separate paper explains that it’s not “well-behaved, high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers.” The study shows that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants.” And in a stat sure to annoy conservative alarmists, this “holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

Digging deeper into the data, we find that immigrant adolescents — often portrayed in the media as a swarm of Latin King gangbangers — are in fact, “statistically less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting, selling drugs, binge drinking, carrying guns, or using marijuana and other illegal drugs” than their peers.

So if immigrants — even the undocumented Hispanic ones — aren’t committing all these crimes, who is? Or to paraphrase a not-so-wise man, “Who is doing all the raping?”

The answer seems to be, “Americans.” The immigrant boogeyman is no match for born-and-bred craziness.

Now, if we eliminate the immigrant subcategory and look at crime rates among Hispanics, we get a more nuanced picture.

A study shows that Latinos made up about 16.6 percent of all arrests, comparable to our percentage of the US population. We are sadly overrepresented in some categories (e.g., motor vehicle theft) and underrepresented in others (e.g., there are few Latino embezzlers). One stat I found interesting is that Hispanics have a very low rate of offenses against family members and children (6.2 percent of all arrests). Clearly, the legendary emphasis that Latinos place on family isn’t just talk.

In any case, one of the more disturbing aspects of the study is the following: For all the fears that white people have about being victims of crime (often at the hands of some swarthy minority), it is Hispanics who should be concerned.

For example, the homicide rate for Latinos is double the rate for white people.

And Latinos experience a higher rate of hate crime than whites or blacks. The data shows that the rate of hate crime incidents against Latinos is slightly higher than the rate for blacks. And the Hispanic rate is more than triple that of whites.

So perhaps it is we Latinos who should be saying, “Crime is out of control” and locking ourselves up in gated communities.

Hey, don’t rule it out.



A New Wave

A subtle shift is taking place. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Asians will eventually overtake Latinos as the largest source of immigration.

Yes, recent data shows that fifty years from now, “Hispanics are expected to make up 31% of immigrants. Asians, on the other hand, will outnumber Hispanics and make up 38% of immigrants.”

Wow, this is news. After all, the words “immigrant” and “Hispanic” have been interchangeable for decades now, at least in the minds of many Americans. And to be clear, Latinos are still the largest immigrant group, making up almost half (47 percent) of all immigrants in the United States.

But as we all know, immigration from Latin America has slowed in recent years. In fact, a steep decline began in 2007, mostly because the Great Recession had kicked in, and El Norte looked a lot less appealing that it had previously.

What this all means is that the percentage of new arrivals who are Hispanic is actually smaller than it was 50 years ago. Yes, despite all you’ve heard about the border being overrun, the fact is that immigration — both documented and undocumented — is down over the last decade. And in a shocker, “the percentage of the total U.S. population born outside this country was higher in 1890 than it is today.”

So what does this mean for Asians, who are the new face of immigration? Well, they appear to be in pretty good shape.

A recent poll found that “immigrants from Asia fare best when it comes to how Americans view them, with 47% seeing them in a positive light. Only 11% see Asians negatively.”

In stark contrast, “immigrants from Latin America are viewed positively by only 26% of those surveyed and are seen negatively by 37%.”

A natural question, of course, is why are Latino immigrants the object of so much loathing?

Well, there are the usual strands of xenophobia based on skin color, language, and cultural differences. But if I had to pick the biggest reason for the disgust many Americans feel for Hispanics, it is the perception, fueled by certain presidential candidates and professional buffoons, that Latinos are a pack of bloodthirsty, sociopathic criminals.

It’s what marketing pros call a branding issue.

And how bad, and ultimately misguided, is this perception?

Well, that’s a whole other post (yes, coming soon).


Recently, the good people at Simmons College asked me to take part in their blog carnival.


Well, how could I say no to anything with the word “carnival” in it? Will there be rides? Will there be virtual cotton candy? Can I get my picture taken next to the bearded lady? (Note: it is no longer socially acceptable to make fun of women with facial hair, so please mentally delete that last sentence).

In any case, it turns out that the blog carnival is part of the #MoreThanALabel campaign to shine a positive light on immigrant communities, defy labels, and combat the stigmas of being an immigrant.

Now, I am not an immigrant. I was born in New York City, which many conservatives will tell you is not part of the “real America,” but alas for them, it technically counts as the USA.

As I’ve stated many times, being born here is not an accomplishment. It is pure luck.

However, my mother is an immigrant. She came here from El Salvador in the late 1960s, and she has now been an American citizen for longer than she was a resident of her native land.

Many of my cousins are immigrants. They came here as kids and have become citizens, started careers, and raised their own children.

One of my cousins has done multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, really, how patriotic can you get?

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how successful the immigrants in my family have been. Nor does it matter that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. And it doesn’t even count that immigrants pay plenty of taxes and have a net positive impact on the economy.

That’s because a huge percentage of Americans are convinced that their lives suck because of all those people who were born south of Texas. And those Americans cannot be reasoned with.

So while it’s great that the #MoreThanALabel campaign is working to improve the image of immigrant communities, I’m just too cynical to contribute much of an uplifting narrative.

You see, I’m through with trying to convince xenophobes that immigrants belong in America. That is backward logic. It is the racists who represent the worst of the USA, and they always have.

And before everybody gets crazy, let me issue an obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone who has issues with immigration reform or is a conservative is a racist. Again, I’m not saying that. It would be absurd.

But the racial element is there, winding around the debate. It makes movements like #MoreThanALabel a necessity. No other group has to take such great efforts to convince a segment of the American population that they are human beings.

Still, the good news is that immigrants will persevere. Each new generation of arrivals struggles to its feet and establishes itself as part of American culture. It is an inevitable process, and it will go on and on.

So, if you need me, I’ll be hitting this blog carnival’s Tilt-a-Whirl. See you there.



Two facts you probably know about me: I live California, and I am the parent of a toddler.

Those two seemingly unrelated items mingled recently when a measles outbreak hit our state, and much of the blame was placed on New Age hippie Californians who didn’t vaccinate their kids.


Now, I believe in science and have little patience for religious nutjobs who fear the modern world. Also, I am not down with uber-libertarians who think it’s their right to infect other people’s kids because of, you know, personal freedom and shit.

So yes, our son is vaccinated.

Of course, as upsetting and infuriating and generally bizarre as the measles outbreak was, there was still room for right-wingers to up the craziness.

And that’s how we got Republican politicians and conservative blowhards who blamed the outbreak on undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

To these paranoid minds, it is all those undocumented kids who flooded the border last summer, who were then “just sent out across the country. Many of them had measles.”

In fact, none of them had measles. More disturbingly, “in this latest outbreak, measles has actually spread from the United States to Mexico.”

Ouch — that’s not pretty.

In sum, there is no evidence that undocumented kids are poisoning America. There is, however, plenty of proof that immigrants, particularly Hispanics, continue to be the scapegoat for America’s issues.

If only we had a vaccine against xenophobia.


An Ominous U-turn

It’s taken as a given — a damn article of faith — that each generation in America does at least as well as its parents, preferably better. This is the reason old people go on and on about all the sacrifices they made for you. They wanted you to have a better life than they did.

Well, as we all know, that forward progress came to a jolting halt with Gen X. People of my age group have heard many times how we will be the first generation in American history to do worse than our parents. Let me tell you, that little factoid never gets stale… nope.

But now there is more to the story. A new study implies that the grandchildren of Latino immigrants — the third generation — make a U-turn in generational improvement in some areas and end up worse off than their parents.



Basically, if you are a Millenial Hispanic, you are so very, very screwed.

The study showed that second-generation Latinos (like me) tend to do better than their immigrant parents in such areas as education, employment and financial stability. But the third generation sees that forward momentum sputter and slide back down. Their educational and economic progress stagnates.

The researchers theorize that second-generation Latinos grow up hearing about their parents’ difficult lives in their home countries. I know this was true for me. I heard many times from my mom and aunt about El Salvador and how it was not exactly the most blessed of nations.

Hearing such tales may inspire second-generation Latinos to improve upon their parents’ situation. However, the third generation is more removed from this frame of reference. It seems that abuela’s anecdotes about walking to school barefoot and living on nothing but rice and beans just don’t register with those darn kids.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. More important, issues like poverty and discrimination may become more entrenched by the third generation, and this may drag on young Latinos, making it difficult to improve upon their parents’ status.

As the researchers note, there is only “so much you can do with motivation and drive to get out of poverty.…At some point, you need the structural means to overcome a lot of these problems.”

Yes, that means investing in education, infrastructure, and other boogeyman “big government” solutions. Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

It’s almost enough to make you grateful for being a member of Gen X. And that’s saying something.


Um… thanks?

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much of a Latino connection to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Oh of course, civilized people everywhere — regardless of color, creed, ethnicity or religion — are horrified and outraged.

And as a writer who has received hate mail (but thankfully no death threats), I’m in solidarity with those who were targeted for expressing their opinions, even if those opinions were occasionally loathsome.

But again, I didn’t see a clear relationship to Hispanics — at least until I caught this nugget on an internet message board from a commentator who inexplicably wished to remain anonymous:

“I never thought I would be grateful for our illegal immigrants. But at least the Mexicans sneaking across our border are Catholics, not Muslims. And they only steal jobs and welfare. They don’t blow shit up.”

That’s high praise indeed. I’m sure we can look forward to more thoughtful analysis like this in the future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to helping Mexicans steal jobs and welfare. But remember, we don’t blow shit up.


Safe at Last

As you recall, the town of Murrieta, California, became the symbol of intolerance last year when throngs of protestors greeted a busload of undocumented people (many of them children).

The protestors unleashed a frenzied jingoistic display that prevented the immigrants from being processed in the town, and the bus had to turn around. Yes, it was a proud time to be an American, especially if you’re a believer in mobocracy.

mobruleIn any case, many of the protestors claimed that the recent influx of Latino immigrants had caused crime to skyrocket, and they weren’t going to take it anymore.

Well, I think we can all agree with their concern about crime, considering that recent statistics point out that Murrieta is the second-safest city in the country.

What’s that?

Apparently, all those recent Hispanic arrivals going around terrorizing everyone hasn’t had much of an effect on the place, because Murrieta has the lowest rate of assaults in the nation. The city also has the lowest rate of violent crimes among all large cities in the country. In 2013, there was a total of one murder in the city (no word on whether a Latino did it). Put it all together, and Murrieta is second only to another California city (Irvine) as the epitome of peace and tranquility.

But of course, a busload of undocumented women and children was going to turn Murrieta into Mogadishu overnight.

That was a close one.


Summing Up Our Favorite Topic

It’s the end of the year. So let’s address immigration one last time.

Listen, if you don’t know by now that most Americans support a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, well, I can’t help you.

But I will point out that President Obama’s recent executive decision doesn’t offer an actual route to citizenship. I know, I know. You heard that this was amnesty and the end of America and all that. But the people who are telling you this lie don’t know the difference between amnesty and Amway.

Basically, the administration is deferring the deportation of undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens or legal residents. The order also expands protection to more children who entered the country illegally with their parents (that’s right — the Dreamers). The president’s decision could mean that up to 5 million undocumented people will be allowed to stay in the country, without threat of deportation.

More than half of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America are now eligible to remain in America. But again, they would not be eligible for citizenship.

It’s not surprising that Latinos overwhelmingly agree with Obama’s approach. One poll shows that 90% of Hispanics support the president’s plan. Wow, you can’t even get 90% of us to agree that Shakira is hot (she is, by the way).

shakira 99
Now, undocumented immigrants themselves almost universally desire a way to legalize their situation. But many of the immigrants who are eligible for citizenship aren’t taking advantage of the offer. In fact, less than 10% of the 8.5 million immigrants who are eligible for naturalization have applied so far.

Why is this? Well, some still struggle with English, and they don’t feel confident they could pass the English-proficiency language exam. Others can’t afford the naturalization process, which usually costs $680 and is often multiplied by several family members.

Some still intend to return to their homelands, even if they have been in America for years. And yet others are afraid that it’s all a scam, and that some notario will fleece them. Remember, con artists love to take advantage of hopeful, desperate people who are reluctant to report fraud.

OK, so immigrants — Hispanic or otherwise — aren’t necessarily in a big rush to become citizens. But having the option is more than a nicety. You see, undocumented people who live in constant fear of being deported exist in a perpetual hell. And if you don’t care about that, perhaps you will care about the chain reaction of misery that cascades down upon actual citizens.

For example, many Latinos — born and raised in America — haven’t signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, because they worry that doing so could cause family members to be deported. They’re concerned that giving detailed info online will cause the INS to come knocking on their door. That’s not true, of course, but it’s understandable. And that has a very real effect on the ACA’s effectiveness and our health care system in general.

Oh wait, if you hate the president’s executive order, you probably hate Obamacare too.

Well, that explains a few things.



By now, you’ve heard about President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The plan could help as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants avoid deportation. It marks a major development in the ongoing debate over immigration, and millions of Latino families could see their entire lives changed because of the decision.

Republicans, of course, are apocalyptic. It’s amnesty, or an impeachable offense, or the downfall of America, or some combination of all those things.

No, they really don’t like it.


Already, we’ve heard the GOP say how Hispanics are now going to overrun America and start ethnic cleansing. I’m not exaggerating. This GOP guy thinks it’s a possibility.

Now, I’ve addressed the countless myths, untruths, and slurs that have been hurled at undocumented people over the years. So I’m not going to get into it all over again.

Suffice to say, nobody really knows what effect this decision will have. But it is, as the kids say, a game changer. And it will have very real effects on myriad Latino households.

Of course, if we do start ethnic cleansing, just say that you’re a regular reader of mine. I’ll put in a good word for you.


What’s Not to Love?

So our good friend Ted Cruz is once again threatening to shut down the federal government if undocumented people are offered a path to citizenship… excuse me, I meant “amnesty.” Now, Senator Cruz is not too big on the actual facts of the debate, which is why other people tend to correct him in public.

As we all know, the deluge at the border has slowed down. We are apparently no longer being “invaded.” I, for one, am breathing multiple sighs of relief at that.

Myriad issues have yet to be resolved, of course, and the larger conundrum of immigration reform will continue to vex this country for the foreseeable future. And how one perceives the issue can, of course, vary wildly (ahem).


So I’ll just throw in one fact here, among the many stats and data points that tend to get lost in a swirl of fury and accusations.

A recent study found that, rather than leeching off the social services that America provides, immigrants have actually “helped pay the nation’s bills, at least when it comes to health care.” This is because immigrants contributed over $182 billion to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund between 1996 and 2011.

Immigrants contributed over $11 billion more than was spent on their care. During the same time period, U.S.-born citizens sapped a $68.7 billion deficit from the fund.

Yes, if immigrants had not made these large contributions, “the trust fund would likely run out of money three years earlier than it is currently predicted to become insolvent.”

Well, thanks all you immigrants. I’m sure you’re feeling very appreciated right about now.


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