“It Only Happens to Mexicans” (Or How Not to Frame a Critique of the Immigration Policy)

I’ll start off by saying that I like Dan Rodricks. He’s an okay guy. He may be a little hard to follow on some of his arguments, but he generally means well. So I was a little bit surprised to read his latest opinion piece for The Baltimore Sun. In it, he tells us the story of a British academic from Johns Hopkins University who was unable to continue her work at the university because of the immigration policies of the Trump Administration.

The only problem I, and a few Mexican friends of mine, had is the way that Mr. Rodricks framed the discussion from the get go:

“Last month, when it became clear that Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel would have to leave her job at Johns Hopkins University and return to England, the reaction of several friends and colleagues was uncannily the same: “I thought this only happened to Mexicans.””

Uh… What?

The opinion article tells us the story of Dr. Mahoney-Steel and how the H-1B visa was denied just when her academic career was getting good at Hopkins, and how the university was not very strong in their reaction to how she was treated and eventually deported. (Though “deported” is kind of a strong word in that she wasn’t forcefully removed from the country, or separated from her children… From what I’ve read.)

Here’s the final part of the opinion article:

“Mahoney-Steel found that last claim by Tabb “galling,” adding the distinctly British modifier “somewhat,” and remarking that “sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdities of life.” She says she has been buoyed by the kindness of her American friends and colleagues, who surely must understand by now that this kind of lousy thing does not happen “only to Mexicans.””

Again… What?

The reason I keep asking “what?” is because this issue — immigration — is a very, very sensitive issue with immigrants from Latin America in general and Mexico in particular. We’ve been made to feel like we don’t belong here, or even in places where our ancestors existed way before the Europeans arrived, like Texas and New Mexico. So to hear someone say that they’re surprised that a British academic was “deported” and that they thought it only happened “to Mexicans” is, well, offensive.

It’s like someone is saying that deportations and discrimination in immigration proceedings happening to Mexicans is part of the plan. But, when it happens to a British academic then we must do something. Then it’s appalling. Then it’s a problem.

Of course, I don’t think that this is what Mr. Rodricks intended. That’s just not how he rolls. He’s more Left-of-Center than that. But, man, it hit a nerve.

I think that the thesis of his opinion article was more of like: “Don’t ignore the immigration policies of the Trump Administration because it seems that only a certain segment of the population is being affected. Everyone is being affected.” Because writing it the way he did, it’s almost as if writing about homicides he’d write that homicides happen “only to Black people.”

Know what I mean?

Here’s what others are saying about this:

Dr. Collado-Torres: Problems with an article from the Baltimore Sun covering Dr. Mahoney-Steel’s immigration issues

  One thought on ““It Only Happens to Mexicans” (Or How Not to Frame a Critique of the Immigration Policy)

  1. wzrd1
    September 20, 2018 at 18:35

    I fail to see how an H1B visa holder is even an immigrant. It’s a class of work visa for professionals, which can be renewed when a need is present and not renewed when sufficient staffing is available from the US workforce. Her work visa was not renewed, so she has to return home before it expires or she becomes an illegal alien.
    As opposed to immigration, which is an intent to stay in the US permanently.
    That this administration if blatantly racist toward anyone with non-pearly white skin is a given, it blows its dog whistle on a regular basis and that became beyond annoying while still campaigning. And his near worship of totalitarian leaders is a national disgrace. His treatment of our allies is beyond boorish and at the rate he’s alienating them, while befriending our enemies, soon the US will stand alone against those enemies.
    Meanwhile, his inner circle keeps getting convicted of a bewildering assortment of felonies and shrinks ever smaller, while he confidently bellows lie after lie.
    Leaving me to wonder what we will do once we have a President Pence.
    Which is likely what the Russian’s ultimate goal is, a religious fundamentalist nut running the country into the ground farther than Trump ever could manage. After all, Indiana has Pence to thank for a much higher HIV infection rate.

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  2. Chris
    September 22, 2018 at 19:58

    We know it is not just those from Mexico. In our neck of the woods a very revered high school teacher was told he was an unlawful alien, even though he was a naturalized citizen, and also not from Mexico: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/revered-seattle-theater-director-no-longer-an-alien-but-it-darn-near-took-an-act-of-congress/

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