They were sprinting from the Mexican border straight into oncoming traffic on Interstate 5 in California, zigzagging their way around cars approaching the San Diego port of entry.
“They keep coming,” the narrator said over ominous music. “Two million illegal immigrants in California.”
The footage was from “Border Under Siege,” a 1992 PR film produced by the U.S. Border Patrol. But on the TV screens of millions of Californians, it was a 1994 reelection campaign ad for Gov. Pete Wilson, who had just sued the federal government for failing to stop an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants under the Constitution’s Invasion Clause: Article IV Section 4, which requires the federal government to protect the states against invasion. Wilson was running one of the most anti-immigrant campaigns of his era, seeking to strip all social services from undocumented immigrants under his Proposition 187.
But his militaristic “invasion” metaphor, fueling beliefs that California was literally “under siege,” was an old usage.
It’s one of the oldest and most persistent anti-immigration metaphors in the country’s history, employed to oppose Irish Catholics, Asians, Latinos, Germans, Jews and just about everyone except white Protestants of English ancestry who now lives in America. The nation has been perpetually facing a supposed “invasion” from many stripes of immigrants, said Leo R. Chavez, a social sciences professor at the University of California, Irvine and author of “The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation.”
President Trump’s recent use of the “invasion” metaphor to describe the caravan of thousands of asylum-seeking Central Americans now approaching the southern border is only the latest iteration.
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