Peter Dreier’s 64 Years Later, New York Times, and the new Roman “Barbarians”

The New York Times has a reputation of being a top news organization, but I’ve never bought into that line. Peter Dreier’s recent Huffington Post blog-post, “64 Years Later, Dead Undocumented Immigrants Are Still Nameless in the New York Times,” demonstrates how they aren’t as progressive as they’ve been made out to be. In addition, their continued usage of the pejorative label “illegal immigrants” also bears this out (click here for an explanation of why this is a slur).

To the News’ credit, they have occasional and rare editorialists, like Lawrence Downes, who actually show some sense of decency and ‘progressive’ inclination. In an opinion piece published in 2007, he stated, “illegal” is often “a code word for racial and ethnic hatred,” and I agree.

I have been giving this some thought for some time now, but since I’m not an immigration specialist, I hesitate to write about something on which I only have surface knowledge on. That said, my thoughts on this are still developing, but as a student of history, there are a couple of historical instances where the use of terms to describe a group of ‘foreign’ people are very similar to the usage of ‘illegal;’ the Roman term “barbarian” which described the ‘uncivilized’ Germanic tribes that threatened the edges of their claimed imperial frontier, and the Mexikah/Aztekah term “Chichimekah” that, for the most part, served similar purposes.

In this sense, calling immigrants “illegals” is akin to calling them barbarians who are bent on undermining the socio-political fabric of this country, an absurd claim that is not supported by any evidence. Despite the lack of proof that the “browning of America” will bring forth its downfall, xenophobes spout hateful rhetoric and outright lies in order to continue the unfortunate trend of vilifying the new settlers among us.

“Illegals,” which more often than not is a reference to (brown-skinned/indigenous looking) Mexicans–not Canadians, Asians, or Africans who are also here undocumented– are blamed for everything from outbreaks of disease, increased gas prices, jobs, the economy, and even power blackouts, like the one in California ten or so years ago which was unscrupulously orchestrated by the now defunct Enron.

Mexican immigrants have been turned into the new Roman barbarians by extreme right-wing fascist nativists. “Illegals” are the archetypal outsider boogeyman group that must be feared and dealt with accordingly or the empire will surely crumble and perish. Unfortunately for the fascivists (my term for the fascist nativists) and their supporters (click here for a Tio Taco apology), history paints a different picture over the rise and demise of societies. In a nutshell, Rome caved mainly from internal pressures and increased decadence (sound familiar) and not from the invasion of the “barbarian hordes.” All the Germanic tribes did was turn a bad thing into a good thing, which in retrospect, was not so good in terms of the Dark Ages.

If this country wants to solve its problems, it should really work at trying to find solutions; persecuting immigrants is not one them. Immigrants have more often than not brought renewed vigor, growth, and innovation to the societies they’ve settled into, and if brown-skinned undocumented immigrants–most of whom are descended from the indigenous people of the Americas–are given the chance, they will help lead this country forward to a brighter future. Heck, what am I saying; they are the future!

Peter Dreier: 64 Years Later, Dead Undocumented Immigrants Are Still Nameless in the New York Times.


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