A Conversation with Journalist Pilar Marrero: Toxic Immigration Rhetoric and America’s Future

Photo credit: Pilar Marrero and Sherry Bebitch Jeffe display their personal copies of Marreros's bbok, Killing the American Dream. (Photos by Radin Rahimzadeh - more photos can be seen on flickr>>>)

by Patricia Quintero Estades

Last Wednesday, we had the pleasure of welcoming journalist Pilar Marrero for a conversation with our own Sherry Bebitch Jeffe about toxic immigration rhetoric and the 2016 Presidential Election.

Pilar Marrero is an immigration expert; she’s been covering social and political issues pertaining to the Latinx community in the U.S. for over 20 years. She is the author of Killing the American Dream, a book that chronicles the history of immigration policy in the U.S. She’s originally from Venezuela, where she studied journalism, and has lived in Los Angeles for almost 30 years. She’s currently covering the 2016 Presidential Election for La Opinión—one of LA’s most popular Spanish-language newspapers.

A considerable amount of the conversation on Wednesday centered on the history of immigration policy in the U.S., an area of expertise for Marrero. While sharing her some key points from her book, she emphasized how negative rhetoric against immigrants is something deeply ingrained in American history. “It’s certainly not new, and it hasn’t been only against Mexicans and Muslims,” she said.

Some of the anti-immigrant sentiments we see in the U.S. are related to economic downturns, though it is also often caused by racism and xenophobia. Marrero also highlighted rapid demographic changes in small constituencies as another driver of this type of reaction. When rapid demographic changes occur, it is common for communities to react negatively out of fear.

Furthermore, economic interests and political strategizing also fuel anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. “There is money being made on this issue,” she contended as we discussed matters of private prisons and detention centers. “There is also a lot of money being put in the pockets of politicians.” On the other hand, she explained how scapegoating has been a common political practice for centuries: it is far easier and more convenient for political elites to blame outsiders for the economic problems that a constituency faces, rather than admitting that they are the ones failing to effectively address them.

“We’re a country that idealizes our immigrant past but doesn’t want to deal with our immigrant present,” she shared as a closing thought. Senior Fellow and Bedrosian affiliate Sherry Bebitch Jeffe closed the conversation by urging attendees to “get off [their] asses and go vote!” This seemed like the perfect way to wrap up, as many solutions for dealing with anti-immigrant policies center on voting and increased civic engagement.

Marrero contended that as more and more Latinxs and minorities register to vote and start participating in the political process, we should start to see more positive outcomes. If there is a positive lesson to be drawn from how this treatment of immigrant is cyclical, it is the fact there are other groups that have faced this sort of discrimination and treatment before who have been able to realize their full rights and place in American society. Our speaker seemed optimistic that Latinxs, Muslims, people of color, and other marginalized groups would eventually get to that point as well. With our votes, we can ensure that future is realized sooner rather than later.

Watch the full video here.