Xenophobia has always been a part of US policy even as the country consistently celebrates a heritage based on immigrant arrivals. In 1882, the federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and quota systems usually favored North and Western European arrivals. Despite the Republican Party’s repeated xenophobic talking points during elections seasons, the last immigration overhaul occurred in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
Still, politicians have consistently blamed the country’s societal ills on immigrants, and the topic is often used to marginalize communities or to win electoral votes. As the country’s political divide has increased, many states have passed anti-immigrant legislation meant to scare immigrants (usually of Mexican or Latin American descent) into leaving. What’s worse, many of these anti-immigrant laws are model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which works with private prison corporations to ensure that increased immigrant criminalization ensures a steady pool of potential detainees for private prison corporations such as GEO and CCA.
So far, Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia have signed anti-immigrant laws, and North Carolina just passed its own, HB 318. In recent years, feminists have written about why the country’s immigration issues are part of the feminist struggle. So what does this mean if you find yourself in the middle of a law that could threaten your livelihood in a state like North Carolina, which isn’t known for its progressive politics?
If you’re a person like Giovana Hurtado, not all is lost. Local immigrant groups are fighting back and Giovanna has been involved with a group called El Cambio, a collective of undocumented youth and allies that fights for immigrants rights, LGBT rights, and racial justice—among many other progressive causes. “Many of my life experiences led me to my first organizing meeting. I cannot and will not stand by while I watch injustices taking place,” she says. And she hasn’t. I first met her at a United We Dream Congress in Texas, where she and other youth proclaimed themselves undocumented and unafraid.
As it is, undocumented immigrants are already vulnerable, and according to Giovanna, HB 318 would exacerbate problems further, she states that the law “[P]revents legislation from ever coming about that would allow driver’s licenses for undocumented persons. It also prevents local municipalities from accepting forms of [internationally issued] identification not approved and authorized by the state, the only exception to this is Greensboro Police Department and several other departments in Alamance County.”