Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Trump targets Latinos at the border now, but who’s next? | Helen Ubiñas

I'm Puerto Rican, and a U.S. citizen, but for how long under Trump?

The flag of Puerto Rico flies from a car in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Tuesday October 31, 2017. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
The flag of Puerto Rico flies from a car in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Tuesday October 31, 2017. DAVID SWANSON / Staff PhotographerRead moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Here's what I thought I was going to be doing at home the other night. I thought I'd be working on a column about how all the motivational sayings are wrong; that failure is fatal. That mass shootings prove that almost every day, including the most recent one, where a gamer who lost turned a gun on his fellow players. How the sense of losing — a job, a girl, one's place in the world — proves fatal for those who shooters believe have denied them. And I thought I'd be telling you how President Trump adopted the same mentality when he warned there would be violence if Republicans lost the midterms.

Instead, I found myself digging through a lockbox for my birth certificate.

Until I remembered that birth certificates mean nothing now — at least for Latinos.

In case you missed the news from the Washington Post: Trump's government is denying passport applications to some Americans born near the Mexican border. The administration's concern: Those birth certificates, which were enough for a man the Post interviewed to serve in the Army, then as a Border Patrol cadet, and now as a state prison guard, might be fakes.

Then I started thinking about how many times, just this year, I've had to explain to people who didn't know or seem to believe that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens; people who saw me only as a Latina — and therefore, an "other" in this country.

>>READ MORE: Getting Me Out Of The United States Won't Be Easy 

In fact, a recent poll showed that fewer than half of Americans know Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

I thought back to Trump, tossing paper towels into the crowd after Hurricane Maria, as Puerto Ricans were dying in numbers we now know were far worse than originally reported. That's 2,975 deaths (almost as many who were killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks), while Trump maintains that his administration did a "fantastic job."

 >>READ MORE: Trump's Pathological Treatment of Puerto Rico

I thought about Trump & Co.'s escalating racist rhetoric and policies built to not just strip people of their citizenship, but of their humanity.

You can hardly imagine it until you no longer have to. Until you're searching for documents that could one day be declared fake, and realizing how few steps there are between being treated as a second-class citizen and being stripped of your citizenship.

It reminded me of a book that has been on my mind a lot since Trump took aim on black and brown immigrants.

"Ink," by Sabrina Vourvoulias, a local journalist, is a 2012 work of fiction that reads like a real-world horror: Temporary workers, permanent residents, and citizens with recent immigration histories are to be sorted and stamped with government tattoos.

If that sounds like a stretch, let's step into the not-so Way Back Machine to 2015 when Republican presidential contender and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested tracking immigrants like Fed Ex packages.

"That was really a moment where I thought 'Oh my God,' my imagination didn't push it far enough," Vourvoulias said.

Our nation has long struggled to extend the full measure of citizenship to its "others" — Irish Catholics in the 19th century, Japanese Americans during World War II, African Americans through all of our nation's history, and now Muslims and, increasingly, Latinos.

Of course the separate and unequal treatment of Puerto Rico predates Trump. So do passport denials. But what is new and escalating is Trump's unabashed, unapologetic bigotry. Even while the State Department pushes back on the Washington Post report, there remain the separated families, the caged and missing children.

>>READ MORE: Trump's Travel Ban Has Local Immigration Lawyers On High Alert

This is not a slow crawl to the erosion of liberty and equality — this is a full-out sprint.

And so I dug through that box full of old IDs and insurance policies and found my birth certificate. I looked at it for a while and then grabbed it and my passport and threw them in my bag.

OK, crazy lady, I thought to myself. I was still feeling a little sheepish the next morning when I pulled up my Twitter feed and saw this tip from Hassan Ahmad.

"I'm an immigration lawyer. If a U.S. citizen asked me whether they should carry around their U.S. passport, I can no longer in good faith tell them they don't have to."

If anyone is still downplaying or dismissing the assault on justice and humanity because it hasn't yet reached their doorstep, I can no longer in good faith try to convince them otherwise. There is no time.