“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.””
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.””
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: