Latino Immigrants Still Face Post-9/11 Backlash

     (CN) — Backlash against Latino immigrants intensified in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, as anti-immigration rhetoric intensified in step with growing concerns about terrorism and the perceived lack of border security.
     Long a topic of heated debate, immigration became intertwined with antiterrorism policies and rhetoric that spurred Islamophobia and general fears over “illegal aliens.”
     At the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, sociologists from the University of Texas at Austin presented a study of government reports and media accounts which the team reviewed to explain how Islamophobia became increasingly used against Latino immigrants in order to attain political support and justify increased surveillance and immigration enforcement.
     “Neither contemporary political rhetoric, nor policy, nor institutional change in regard to immigration and terrorism can be properly understood in isolation without taking into account how these issues are brought together at specific moments,” said co-author Amina Zarrugh. “In fact, the endurance of certain political agendas is made all the more powerful through certain connection with other important agendas, each of which reinforces the other.”
     The team analyzed political rhetoric, non-governmental evaluations and immigration policy, such as citing examples of politicians blaming “porous borders” for “enormous problems,” as well as a commercial that paired images of Latino immigrants crossing the border with photos of terrorists.
     Additionally, the researchers noted fabricated rumors of a terrorist training ground near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
     As fear of terrorism and unsecured borders increased, rhetoric turned into policy and shifted the creation and approaches of government agencies.
     “Policy began to shape this us-versus-them sentiment in new ways,” Zarrugh said.
     The post-9/11 rhetoric led to new systems of surveillance, including the USA Patriot Act — passed just 45 days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
     Deportations also increased significantly, from 189,000 in 2001 to 281,000 by 2006, according to Pew Research. That figure has only continued to rise since: The United States deported roughly 438,000 immigrants in 2013.
     The Patriot Act also made it easier for the government to spy on U.S. citizens by increasing its authority to monitor phone and email communications, track internet activity and collect bank and credit records.
     More than 20 federal agencies were placed under the Department of Homeland Security, including Immigration and Naturalization Services — an example of combining resources to stem undocumented immigration and terrorism simultaneously.
     Study co-author Luis Romero highlighted the political and social climate that enabled the passage of the Patriot Act, the consequences of which would not be fully realized for years.
     “Increased surveillance and security were an easy sell. People were more afraid of threats, real or perceived,” he said. “The call to enforce the U.S.-Mexico border became a rallying point in the push for greater security.”
     And while al-Qaida — not Latino immigrants — was behind the 9/11 attacks, Muslims haven’t been the only ones to come under scrutiny in the 15 years since.
     “The primary goal of the Department of Homeland Security is just that: security,” Zarrugh said. “It was created to prevent future terrorist attacks. And while undue attention was directed toward Muslims as a result, they were not the only ones who came under direct scrutiny.”

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