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Article Analysis: Women Divided: Using Racially Coded Language to Demonize Immigrant Women

In her article entitled, “Constructing Mexican Immigrant Women as a Threat to American Families,” the author, Mary Romero, examined the rhetoric of an anti-immigrant group, Mothers Against Illegal Aliens (MAIA) which operated in Arizona between 2006 and 2008. By telling the story of Elvira Arellano, an immigrant mother, who, along with her son, accepted sanctuary in the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago for a year while she fought against deportation to Mexico, Romero analyzed the discourse used by MAIA and other anti-immigrant groups in their racially coded language which was used to demonize immigrant women and pit American mothers against Mexican immigrant mothers.[1]The construction of this argument was centered around four themes: immigrant mothers are unable to raise loyal U.S. citizens; unrestricted reproduction and birth right citizenship is used by immigrant mothers to gain benefits; that Mexican children who receive benefits negatively affects U.S. mothers and children who then need to right for their rights; and that U.S. born children of immigrant mothers threatens the political dominance of white citizens. For each of these themes, Romero used the discourse found on MAIA’s website, transcripts from interviews given to the media by the organization’s leader, Michelle Dallacroce, and racially coded language found in state and federal immigration laws.

At the time of the foundation of the organization, MAIA filled the void in the field of male-dominated nativist groups found in Arizona and other border states.[2]What made MAIA different is that it positioned itself as an activist group for mothers who were seeking to “protect their families” from the immigrant threat.[3]Romero noted that Dallacroce used the language of patriotism and terrorism, as a “call to arms” for American mothers to “join in demonstrations to restore our country to sanity and respect for our sovereignty while launching veritable renaissance of American exceptionalism.”[4]Another example of this fear-based rhetoric and threat based discourse is MAIA’s own mission statement, which reads:

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide for yourself if you want to get involved, protect your family and country, or if you’d rather watch from the sidelines and let our government do your bidding as it gives away your livelihood, your future and your country to a foreign entity that is dictating U.S. immigration policy … our children and our country are at risk of being eliminated.

Additionally, MAIA used motherly guilt and ignored the principles of intersectionality to encourage women to join the struggle against immigrant women and to divide women through the use of slogans like, “Protect Our Children, Secure Our Borders!”

Romero’s arguments are convincing and, though more than ten years old, are still timely. Even though MAIA is no longer in existence, their taking points live on in contemporary political discourse. The rhetoric around the current immigration debates, be it surrounding Muslim exclusion, or the call to “Build A Wall” to stop caravans of people which are travelling towards our southern border from Central America, the discourse is the same. The threat of terrorism and the fear surrounding that issue are routinely used in the media, political rallies and speeches. These anti-immigrant messages are commonly presented as “responsible citizenship” and vailed in overt patriotism rather than as racist or xenophobic calls for exclusion.

Romero provided compelling and convincing quotes to substantiate her argument. Related to the first theme; that Mexican immigrant mothers are breeders, Romero includes comments from an interview that Dallacroce gave to the Phoenix News Timesin which she said, “But these illegals come here with their Catholic culture, and they have a bunch of babies and they can’t afford them. They’re breeding like rabbits![emphasis in original]”.[5]Through this quote, we glimpse another facet of the anti-immigrant argument as destructive to the dominant white, Protestant, American way-of-life. The second theme is closely related; that Mexican immigrant mothers are greedy and opportunistic, that they are seeking to steal the American Dream from loyal American citizens. According to a MAIA proclamation, these mothers, “sneak over the border,” get pregnant as fast as possible and as frequently as possible, they use their children as “weapons to blackmail the USA,” then, they “call every USA citizen a racist and home wrecker who wants you and your child to leave and return to your country.”[6]To support the third theme; that white children are injured by children of immigrant mothers, Romero quotes from a protest in 2006 when Dallacroce told a reporter, “…The children of illegal immigrants are overcrowding schools to the detriment of providing an education to legal students…”[7]Finally, to support the fourth theme in MAIA’s mission, Romero used the nativist fear that immigrants would one day outnumber white citizens and would lead to a loss in political power and by extension, white privilege.[8]This argument was supported by the claim that Mexicans are invading the United States in order to regain territory lost in the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-1848.[9]This latest point is regularly employed by right wing politicians and pundits to justify their claims that the Mexican government is behind the recent refugee crisis at our southern border.

Romero provided numerous examples from speeches, MAIA’s website, press releases and interviews which support the four themes that she identified. For each theme, she provides several examples of material released by MAIA. A quick internet search revealed little information about MAIA besides what the author, Mary Romero has written. She captured their rather lengthy mission statement which is no longer available online thus documenting this important episode in anti-immigrant rhetoric which persists in contemporary discourse. I believe that what makes this episode most interesting is that MAIA was a female led organization which adopted the rhetoric used by male-dominated anti-immigrant groups to demonize other women and mothers. This co-opting of racially coded language by a women’s group is an example of an attempt of women to gain political power and control over their neighborhoods and local spheres of influence.

[1]Mary Romero, “Constructing Mexican Immigrant Women as a Threat to American Families,” International Journal of Sociology of the Family37, no. 1 (2011): 50.

[2]Mary Romero, “Constructing Mexican Immigrant Women as a Threat to American Families,”International Journal of Sociology of the Family37, no. 1 (2011): 55

[3]Romero, “Constructing Mexican Immigrant Women,” 55

[4]Ibid., 56

[5]Ibid., 58

[6]Ibid., 59

[7]Ibid., 60

[8]Ibid., 62

[9]Ibid., 62

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