The national debate over illegal immigration has been dramatically altered since 9/11. In his book The Latino Threat, Leo R. Chavez argues that Latina/o immigrants—including those U.S. populations that physically resemble them—have been socially constructed as grave risks to the United States. Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (hereinafter “S.B. 1070”) typifies the aggressive backlash that recently occurred in response to this perceived threat. Themes such as immigrant sloth or vice, communicable diseases, reproductive capacity, and criminal “tendencies” are routinely used to drive a wedge between the white majority and non-white immigrants—
especially Latina/o immigrants from places like Mexico and Central America. Many of these arguments appear to have their roots in how Latina/o immigrants have been constructed as both exotic and menacing—especially those immigrant populations whose indigenous ancestries are illustrated morphologically. In fact, I believe that the “Latina/o Threat narrative” that Chavez
describes is intimately connected to the notion of a “savage alien” vis-à-vis anti-Indian sentiments.

In this article, I discuss how imageries based on the historical typification of Indians have been projected onto Latina/o immigrant populations that are in the United States without proper documentation. I also explore the risk such a typification poses to native-born Latina/o populations who are oftentimes unfairly implicated in surging anti-immigrant backlashes. Key questions this article addresses include: Is the idea of the “Latina/o Threat” materially connected to historical ideas concerning Indian savagery? If so, to what extent is this threat narrative connected to anti-Indian sentiment? How have historical representations of American Indians framed modern debates over the kinds of risks posed by Latina/o immigrants to the U.S.? How have these debates affected recent immigration policy?

In section I, I discuss how S.B. 1070, as amended by Arizona House Bill 2162, frames the Latina/o Threat narrative in subtle racialized terms. Specifically, I evaluate whether Arizona’s newly authorized alienage investigations are likely to function in ways that implicate
race in a constitutionally impermissible manner. In section II, I demonstrate how the idea of Indian savagery animated the way Americans typically perceived Indian societies. Further, I assert that the savagery that was often associated with Indians was seamlessly grafted onto Mexican immigrants and ultimately sparked an expansive xenophobic fear that drove the development of restrictive immigration laws along racialized lines. In section III, I demonstrate how the mixed-blood descendents (e.g. immigrants) of early indigenous Latina/o populations have been racialized consistent with that of their Indian forbearers. Throughout, I aim to show
how the Latina/o Threat narrative has its origins in anti-Indian sentiments which are themselves grounded in a deep-seated fear of a savage alien.

Read the full article here.