The Immigrant and Refugee Student Union hosted a speaker event covering topics of immigration and migration discussed, among other topics pertaining to border policy of the United States.
Dr. Alexander Aviña, associate professor of history at Arizona State University, spoke to students and faculty March 24, over a Zoom conference with his remarks entitled, “We are here because you are here.” His talk gave highlights to what he called “American Empire,” how the U.S.-Mexico War plays into modern illegal immigration, and current immigration policy within the United States.
“My interest in this topic [has come from], even though I am a historian of Latin America and Mexico, not necessarily a historian of migration,” Aviña said. “I lived through this history thanks to my parents who were undocumented immigrants.”
“Dr. Aviña did an amazing job at highlighting how there have been historic anti-immigrant attitudes and how they have shifted,” stated Jose Correas, president of IRSU. “I also really thought that the way he talked about how the reasons for people to migrate affect how they are perceived when they enter the United States.”
Aviña makes a claim to how migration in the United States had been curtailed in the early 20th century with racist policies by lawmakers by relating this to the need for cheap labor failing to come from Asia and now sought to find it from Mexico.
“The need for cheap labor is there in a country that is rapidly industrializing in a variety of different ways. They can’t get cheap labor from Asia,” Aviña stated. “The National Origins Act, which passed in 1924, was a white supremacist, highly racist restrictive immigration policy that excluded people from the south and southeastern Europe from coming to the United States. There was an exception made for Latin American workers, particularly from Mexico.”
He later states that the way these senators and representatives of the time were able to make this exclusion, was by making an argument that they, “weren’t here to stay.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 63% of I-94 nonimmigrant entries in the United States in 2021 came from six countries, most of which from Mexico. Of all I-94 entries, 12% were by temporary workers and their families.
However, it should be noted that the current population of nonimmigrants in the United States, according to the DHS, is about 3,190,000 people. Of those, 51% are temporary workers.
Aviña concluded his remarks with a call for a dismantling of national borders, saying, “Dismantling borders … would disrupt a primary mechanism by which difference, citizenship, race, gender, class, sexuality and caste is organized and used to legitimize [various forms] of violence.”
Aviña made several calls throughout his talk, however, none stood as frequently as one sentence that Aviña relates to the U.S. Mexican War. He says, “How can someone be considered ‘illegal’ on stolen land.”