An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Spring 2021

Latinos & Racism in the Trump Era

Stephanie L. Canizales and Jody Agius Vallejo
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This essay examines the roots, causes, and effects of racism experienced by Latinos in the Trump era. We argue that Trump and his administration were not the origin of Latinos’ experiences of racism, but his rise to power was, in part, derived from Latino racialization. Preexisting politics of Latino immigration, Whites’ fear of loss of status due to demographic shifts, and historical and contemporary processes of racializing Latinos were seized by the Trump administration and made central features of his renegade presidential campaign and policy agenda. White nationalist racism became the defining feature of the Trump presidency, making Latinos’ heightened experiences of racism, and the relegitimization of overt White nationalism, one of its lasting legacies.

Stephanie L. Canizales is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. She has published in such journals as Sociology of Education, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and Ethnic and Racial Studies, as well as for such popular outlets as the Conversation and The Globe Post.

Jody Agius Vallejo is Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class (2012) and has published in such journals as Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Social Forces, and Social Science Research.

The United States is in the midst of a demographic shift to a majority-minority country, wherein the aging and declining White population coincides with the growth of communities of color, including an increase in the Latino population. The largest minoritized group in the United States, Latinos make up 18 percent of the population today and the U.S. census projects that they will represent nearly 30 percent of the population by 2060.1 Latinos are a group diverse in national origin, class, race, and ethnocultural characteristics.2 Latinos have historically been among the most demonized ethnoracial groups in the United States, and much has been made by politicians, the media, and pundits of the growth of the Latino population.3 Contrary to the belief that Latino population growth is driven by immigration, nearly two-thirds of Latinos in the United States are native born.4 The size and heterogeneity of the Latino population have also been shaped by declining fertility rates and dwindling migration from Mexico since the Great Recession, coupled with an increase in migration from Central America.5

Scholars have been forecasting the dynamics underlying the United States’ impending majority-minority demographic shift for decades;6 concurrently, a web of White nationalist anti-immigrant organizations, founded or funded by John Tanton, were building momentum and gaining credibility in media and political circles as an alarmist voice on immigration. These organizations, and Whites who fear a loss of power and status, found a champion in Donald Trump, who appealed directly to their distress about waning White dominance.7 Trump’s campaign targeted Latinos via racist and xenophobic rhetoric from its inception. Trump relied on racist tropes and populist language, honed over the course of his campaign by advisors Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, to position himself as the protector of America’s declining White majority who are under attack by immigration. The public was bombarded with promises to “Make America Great Again” by building a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexican border to curtail supposed high levels of undocumented migration, crime, and drugs, and to “instill the rule of law at our borders.” Trump rebuked Latin American countries, especially Mexico, for “not sending their best” and homogenized Latinos as criminal invaders regardless of age, gender, or motive for migration. During the final presidential debate in 2016, Trump equated immigrants with criminals, “drug lords,” and “bad hombres,” promising that “We have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.”8

Despite research underscoring the fallacies of these claims, studies have demonstrated that Trump’s xenophobic campaign rhetoric was effective in activating many Whites’ demographobia, or feelings that Whites are under siege by growing racial/ethnic diversity, and that racism and anti-immigrant attitudes motivated some Trump voters.9 Indeed, Trump’s nativist nationalism, anti-immigrant policy agenda, and misogyny have allowed him to connect to a sense of White loss after decades of neoliberalism have exacerbated inequality, shifting the blame about the vanishing American Dream from the federal government to women, immigrants, and people of color.10

We turn our attention to Latinos’ experiences of racism in the Trump era. This essay will show that while Donald Trump and his administration were not the origin of Latinos’ racialization and experiences of racism, Trump’s rise to power has been, in part, derived from relying on Latino racialization. We take particular note of the resurgence of overt racism and White nationalist violence targeting Latinos that parallels the political ascendance of Trump. We show how preexisting politics of Latino immigration and historical and contemporary processes of racializing Latinos as criminals, others, and colonial subjects were seized by the Trump administration and made central features of his renegade entry into politics. By adding force to already existing draconian anti-Latino policies and using moments of supposed crisis to propose new ones, normalizing nationalist xenophobic rhetoric on the national stage, and inciting violence against Latinos from federal agencies to private citizens, Donald Trump propelled himself into the political arena as the defender of those fearing demographic change and immigration. Fear of the non-White other, and the Latino other, in particular, serves as a tie that binds him to several of his advisors, pundits, and, ultimately, his constituents and was used to maintain his political power and influence. Ultimately, though Trump did not introduce White nationalist racism into U.S. politics and social life, it was the defining feature of his presidency, surely making Latinos’ heightened experiences of racism, and the relegitimization of overt White nationalism, one of its lasting legacies.

The contours of a shared Latino identity are ever-evolving, but the racism and xenophobia targeting Latinos is enduring. Racism, beyond holding prejudicial beliefs, is a system of domination–advantage and disadvantage–based on socially constructed categories of race.11 In the United States, racism is guided by a “White racial frame,” wherein Whiteness is deemed superior and other groups are deemed inferior.12 Racism is structurally reinforced through racial formation and racialization via social institutions and discriminatory practices within them that exacerbate social inequality and oppress individuals and groups along racial lines.13 Racism is also socially produced interpersonally, whether consciously or unconsciously, through racist thinking and discriminatory interactions between individuals that include exclusion, stigmatization, harassment, violence, or threats of violence. Racism continues to shape the everyday lived experiences and life chances of racial and ethnic minoritized groups in the United States, regardless of immigrant status, generation, and class.

Racism against Latinos encompasses racial ideologies touting that biological distinctions across groups result in cultural and social differences and multilevel racial structures that advantage those deemed superior while disadvantaging others.14  Racial ideologies are a set of principles and ideas that serve to divide people into groups and that benefit the interests of the dominant group. Racial ideologies in the United States center on hegemonic Whiteness and work to protect White supremacy. They find their power in repeated cultural representations, or controlling images that solidify as racial scripts, that shape how members of a racialized group are perceived and treated at interpersonal, institutional, and political levels. First introduced by social theorist Patricia Hill Collins in her study of gendered depictions of African Americans in the media, “controlling images” draw on intersectional ideologies of race, gender, age, class, and sexuality to define identity.15 Notably, controlling images works to identify those who are insiders by highlighting the characteristics that would make one an outsider. Historian Natalia Molina refers to “the practice of defining one racialized group with reference to what is attributed to another” as racial scripts.16 Once defined, controlling images and racial scripts proliferate throughout time and space via media, policy, violence, and everyday interactions. As “White institutional spaces” are created and protected, racial ideologies and racial scripts are reinforced.17

Latinos are often depicted by controlling images of what anthropologist Leo Chavez refers to as the Latino threat narrative, in which men are constructed in political rhetoric and the media as illegal, criminal, and culturally and intellectually deficient, and women and children as public resource drainers and, ultimately, a threat to White hegemony.18 These controlling images shape public discourse and commonplace understandings of Latinos–regardless of national origin, race, class, or generation–in American society, and are presented in racial scripts that pit Latinos against U.S.-born Whites and other immigrant groups.19

Ultimately, racial ideologies reinforce hegemonic Whiteness through the formation of racialized language, structures, stereotypes, and practices that shape institutional integration, cultural belonging, and life chances. Defining Latinos as a threat simultaneously casts Latinos as non-American and therefore undeserving of access to citizenship rights and resources, such as education, health care, housing, and wealth, and justifies dehumanizing policies. Racialization processes mean that, despite heterogeneity in national origin, Latinos share a common ethnoracial categorization. Racial ideologies and structures continue to shape patterns and processes of ethnoracial identification–how Latinos see themselves–and ethnoracial boundaries–how they are viewed and treated by others–and their experiences in the Trump era.20

After Trump took office in January 2017, the racial ideologies espoused along the campaign trail of Mexican immigrants and Latinos as criminals were translated into racist policies that amplified existing structures of enforcement and inhumane treatment of Latino immigrants, in turn reinforcing the ideologies themselves. During his first week in office, Trump signed two executive orders that disproportionately targeted Latinos via enhanced interior and exterior enforcement, as the U.S. detention and deportation regime has long served as a site of Latino racialization. The first order, on “Border Security,” was intended to keep his campaign promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, despite the fact that the militarization of the Southern border had proven ineffective in deterring undocumented migration and in fact had resulted in the long-term settlement of undocumented Latinos in the United States.21 The executive order also authorized the expansion of the Border Patrol and directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to construct additional detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexican border and significantly restrict access to asylum.

The second executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” delineated Trump’s interior enforcement priorities. The order resurrected and expanded efforts to bridge local and federal law enforcement agencies and increased the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Before Trump, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, both enacted in 1996, gave room for states and cities to implement immigration law by encouraging police officers to question individuals about their immigration status during stops. A noncitizen could then be transferred to ICE custody and deported. In 2008, ICE launched the Secure Communities and Section 287(g) agreements, which facilitated data-sharing links between local police officers, DHS, and the FBI, and significantly increased deportations, earning Obama the moniker “Deporter in Chief.” In a victory for immigrant rights activists, Secure Communities was reined in during Obama’s second term due to racial profiling concerns. However, Trump’s executive order resuscitated Secure Communities. As scholars have demonstrated, the definition of people considered to be “priorities” was expanded to include undocumented immigrants charged with minor offenses or suspected of committing a crime.22 In the administration’s first one hundred days, the number of civil immigration arrests increased 38 percent compared with the previous year. Researchers have shown that dark-skinned Latino and Black men from a small number of countries are disproportionately targeted by enforcement efforts, producing a “gendered racial removal program.”23

As social, economic, political, and environmental instability, fueled by a long history of U.S. intervention in the region, spurred child and familial refugee migration from Central America in 2018 and 2019, Trump drew on the migration and apprehension trends at the U.S. Southern border to manufacture a Latino immigration crisis from a humanitarian one, resulting in increasingly draconian policies targeting Latino immigrants.24 Trump’s immigration policy architects, particularly Stephen Miller, are connected to a web of nativist organizations, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies, whose goals are to reduce the migration of non-Whites to the United States.25 Miller advocated for actions such as “zero tolerance,” implemented in May 2018, that inhumanely separated children from their parents seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border. In January 2019, DHS announced the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP; commonly known as Remain in Mexico) that create a vertical border by mandating that growing numbers of asylum seekers await hearings in Mexico in encampments. The MPP violates international human rights law by denying refugees their legal right to seek asylum in the United States, while exposing people to extortion and violence as they await hearings in Mexico. Together, Trump’s rhetoric and policies reinforce the idea that Latino asylum seekers are unworthy of entry to the United States and of access to U.S. rights and citizenship, and they manufactured a humanitarian crisis at the border by detaining children and families on U.S. soil in facilities likened to cages and under deplorable conditions, subjecting them to abuse, and creating border refugee camps.

Further concretizing the conflation of immigrants with criminals in the American public imaginary, Trump zeroed in on the Salvadoran-American gang MS-13 to justify his draconian policies. Despite being born on the streets of Los Angeles, California, and a product of U.S. society that excluded and marginalized many Salvadoran immigrants who fled the U.S.-backed Salvadoran Civil War, MS-13 was upheld as an example of the threat Central Americans posed to the United States. Journalists referred to this demonization as Trump’s transformation of the Salvadoran-American gang into “public enemy number one.” When Trump rescinded the Obama-era executive order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on September 5, 2017, he justified the decision by falsely claiming that DACA spurred a “massive surge” of immigrants from Central America, some of whom, he claimed, joined MS-13. During a May 2018 White House meeting about sanctuary states, at which a public official mentioned MS-13, Trump raged against Latino immigrants by saying, in front of reporters, “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.” These racist criminal and animal tropes are controlling images that are used to instill fear and remind Whites who the “other” is, a key tool to garner support for Trump’s policies. They are employed to defend the growing reach of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and ICE and to justify the dismantling of the U.S. asylum system and humanitarian protections.

Trump’s racist and dehumanizing rhetoric and policy actions have increased Latinos’ experiences of institutionalized legal violence via the expansion of the detention and deportation regime, state-sponsored abuse against children, and the stripping of civil rights, while fomenting racial violence directed at Latinos and other groups.26 For example, counties across the United States that hosted rallies for the presidential candidate in 2016 witnessed a 226 percent surge in hate crimes.27 In November 2019, the FBI reported that anti-Latino or Hispanic hate crimes increased over 21 percent in 2018.

Among the most overt hate crimes against Latinos was an August 2019 attack during which a White nationalist terrorist shot and killed twenty-two people and injured twenty-six others in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, a city that is about 80 percent Latino and that borders Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. In an anti-Latino immigrant screed, the shooter expressed his rage over interracial mixing and what he referred to as the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and that he was “defending [his] country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by invasion.” The manifesto echoed fears of demographic change and Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric that also singled out El Paso in his 2019 State of the Union address as having “extremely high rates of violent crime–one of the highest in the entire country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” which, according to Trump, only became “one of the safest cities in our country” after a border wall was erected. Various fact checkers and El Paso’s Republican mayor swiftly contradicted the statement by saying El Paso was safe prior to the already existing border fence being reinforced by the Trump administration’s border wall efforts. Latinos in El Paso and across the nation, already reeling from years of Trump’s racist rhetoric, were deeply affected by this act of racial terrorism. Journalists documented that many Latinos across the nation–regardless of national origin and immigrant generation–expressed anger and fear of White nationalism, and the fear was especially acute among those with racialized markers of ethnorace: Spanish accents and dark skin.

Research supports the idea of a “Trump effect”: that is, that “Trump’s racially inflammatory speech emboldened individuals to express their prejudice.”28 The Trump effect has been compounded by Trump’s reliance on social media to relay his unfettered opinion and racist rhetoric to his base, which allows “overt white racism and bigotry [to] be communicated in the public frontstage of social media as supposed cathartic, and importantly, non-racially motivated truth telling.”29

The Trump administration disassociates violence by private citizens against Latinos from the rhetoric used by the president and touts that many of the actions taken by the administration that are racist toward Latino immigrants and their families are simply enforcements or extensions of already existing policies and practices. Indeed, Trump and his administration are a reprise of historically entrenched racism and institutionalized White supremacy that demonizes Latinos in rhetoric, policy, and practice dating back to the nineteenth century when the United States seized control of the Southwest.30 These systems have been maintained through the persistent and effective racialization of Latinos for nearly two centuries, but they have been further institutionalized under Trump, who relied on his supporters’ fear of immigration and Latinos.31 Latino racialization is a product of the homogenization of a diverse population into a single racial category paired with controlling images that cast Latinos and those of Latin American descent in the United States as the subhuman other, which affects how Latinos are viewed by others and how they view themselves and their place in American society.32 A recent report by the Pew Research Center finds that half of Latinos in the United States have serious concerns about their place in American society today. Two-thirds of those surveyed feel that Trump’s policies have been harmful to Latinos, a much higher proportion than during the Obama or Bush presidencies.33 The racialization one is subject to differs by social location and is experienced, embodied, and resisted differently across space, producing racialized illegality, racialized citizenship, and, in the case of Puerto Ricans, as racial/colonial subjects.34

First-generation immigrants–those who migrate to the United States–are subjected to a process of racialized illegality in which designations of foreignness and criminality intersect.35 Latino immigration is weaponized for political gain, but their racialization as “illegal” has real consequences for immigration, naturalization, refugee, and asylum policy decisions. Rhetoric about these policies, and the increased attention to detention and deportation, shapes people’s lives and experiences and consequently influences immigrants’ collective experiences in the United States. Trump reinforced the tenets of racialized illegality for Mexican immigrants and, in the context of refugee flows from Central America, this frame has been expanded to apply to unaccompanied minors and refugees.36

Though racialized illegality primarily affects individuals targeted by immigration law, it reverberates at all levels of society. U.S.-born family members, and even nonimmigrant peers, experience the fear of deportation of a loved one. The burden of the emotional distress that stems from a persistent fear of family separation negatively affects immigrants’ mental and emotional health and can be acutely experienced by children. Latino women and children are disproportionately affected by lost or deferred educational or economic mobility as men–husbands, fathers, and financial providers–are subjected to deportation.37 Hence, racialized law enforcement shapes the future of Latino families and communities through “multigenerational punishment” that affects immigrants’ material, physical, and psychological well-being.38 Mirroring these processes, immigrant Latinos feel greater worry about their place in Trump’s America than the U.S. born, but both immigrant and U.S.-born Latinos worry that someone they know will be deported.39

Still, Latinos experience racism regardless of generation and legal status as racialization casts a wide net of political and social “exclusionary inclusion.”40 Later-generation Latinos may experience what historian Mae Ngai terms “racialized citizenship,” whereby Americanness is White and, therefore, non-White groups are imagined as foreigners.41 Racialized citizenship transcends generations. As racialized citizens, U.S.-born Latinos’ social integration is limited by boundaries of racial otherness, which shapes their opportunities and mobility in American institutions.

Within the frame of racialized citizenship, integration processes–such as self-identification–are also racialized.42 Researchers find time and time again that Latinos do not simply self-identify racially/ethnically as “American.” Instead, they experience processes of racialized identification, in which they might identify as Hispanic, Latino, Latin American, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous, Mestizo (mixed-race), along their national origin lines, or as hyphenated Americans.43 A recent study of Latino millennials in Chicago, Illinois, shows that U.S.-born Latinos are socially marked both as citizens who do not belong and as alien citizens.44 Because Latino millennials feel that they are neither racially nor culturally compatible with the notions of Americanness (defined by Whiteness and Anglo-Saxon-Protestant heritage, respectively), they consider that their full inclusion is unattainable. The proliferation of controlling images of Latinos as criminals, at the border, or in procedures of removal and return–as was ongoing in the Trump era–serves to perpetuate notions of foreignness.

A national-origin group that encounters a distinct form of racism is Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and Puerto Ricans were extended U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet are excluded from full belonging. Nearly six million Puerto Ricans live in the United States today, while almost three million more live on the island and many Puerto Ricans have African ancestry. While formal citizenship status and rights are granted to Puerto Ricans, full membership in the United States is not achieved. Thus, Puerto Rican’s citizenship is marked by a colonial legacy of inferiority and racialization as a foreign other.45 In this way, Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship on the ground, but have colonial/racialized citizenship in practice. President Trump’s decision to give ten million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget to ICE in 2018 for the increased detention and deportation of immigrants, following his disastrous response to Hurricane Maria in 2017, elucidates the administration’s fixation on undocumented Latinos and prioritization of the containment and removal of them over the protection of citizen Latinos.

Ultimately, decades of Latino exclusion and racialization via policy and rhetoric, and in practice, combined with the recent wave of xenophobia and the rise of White nationalism in the Trump era, create a harsh societal context of reception for Latino immigrants and their descendants in the United States today.46 The racialization of Latinos in the United States as non-White, regardless of the reason for being so, casts Latinos as the other and reinforces racial boundaries and unequal power dynamics that have consequences in everyday life and across generations.

Still, there is no single Latino experience of racism. Skin color, for example, shapes experiences of racism, as dark skin is associated with criminality and undocumented status, even among those in the middle class and into the third generation.47 The erasure of Afro-Latino and Indigenous voices from research, policy, and public representation signals the “hybrid hegemonies” that marginalize them within nested ethnoracial hierarchies.48 Class status also shapes exposure to racism. While legal status, access to higher education, and entrepreneurship facilitate mobility into the middle and upper classes, many middle- and upper-class Latinos continue to experience racism and racialization within White-dominated institutions and in everyday life.49 It is regularly assumed that they or their parents are undocumented immigrants, they are racially profiled by police, they are mistaken for “the help,” even when dressed in professional attire, and they are castigated for speaking Spanish in White-dominated institutions or in public.50 Geography is also an important determinant to Latinos’ experiences of racism. As collaborations between federal and local enforcement resuscitated the linking of federal agendas to local authorities, the likelihood of racial profiling in the Trump era increased.51 Some states, like California, which led the resistance to Trump’s immigration policies, have implemented state-wide sanctuary policies to limit the reach of ICE. Combating racism against Latinos requires navigating this uneven terrain.

Nativism and White nationalism were alive and well in America and Republican politicians have long relied on racial stereotypes as “dog whistles” to activate their base long before Trump’s ascension into politics.52 However, what is different about the Trump era is the converging pressures of immigration-driven demographic change, rising economic inequality, and White racial resentment alongside the relegitimization of the alt-right and overt White nationalism.53 The Trump effect will leave a lasting mark on Latinos, and other racial/ethnic groups, in the United States. As ethnic studies scholar Alfonso Gonzales contends, the Trump era signifies “a shift in racial politics from so-called color-blind racism toward a resurgent white nationalism that seeks to dismantle rights regimes and programs won by racial minorities, indigenous peoples, women, LGBT communities, immigrants, and refugees.”54 Latinos, both recent immigrants and long-settled Americans who make up the largest racialized group in the country, will continue to experience racialization, which may result in “durable ethnicity” across generations.55 Indeed, Trump’s campaign primarily targeted Mexican immigrants but, as political scientist Angela Gutierrez and colleagues have found, his racist campaign rhetoric increased the salience of a racialized panethnic Latino identity regardless of national origin and feelings of threat spanning generations.56 Trump’s rhetoric also affected U.S.-born Latinos because they are closely connected to the issue of immigration.57 These U.S.-born Latinos might be especially likely to participate in immigrant rights movements and become civically engaged in their communities. Hence, the so-called Trump effect has already caused many Latinos to develop reactive ethnicity, in which their ethnoracial identity was made more salient as Trump’s racist rhetoric combined with increasing experiences of discrimination and violence in everyday life.58

What, then, might the Trump era mean for the future, both in terms of Latinos’ experiences of racism and for scholars investigating Latino racialization and its effects? The attack on the United States Capitol by White supremacists, incited by Trump, in the waning days of his presidency, is evidence that though Trump was defeated, White nationalism persists. For Latino communities, the politics of immigration are central to processes of racialization: they shape how Latinos are viewed and treated, how Latinos see themselves, and what opportunities they have within the U.S. social structure.59 The deportation regime in the United States has been racialized since its inception, but racialization solidified and expanded under Trump.60 Furthermore, in the absence of undocumented migration from Mexico, and in light of increased refugee migration from Latin America, racialized illegality applies to all immigrants from Latin America, and to families and children legally seeking asylum from home-country conditions wrought by U.S. imperialism and intervention. This has implications for new immigrants and their children, regardless of national origin or legal status, because the social and economic consequences of racialized illegality will shape how they are viewed and treated by others in the Trump era and beyond: as racialized citizens or as racial/colonial subjects.

Latinos are not powerless in this context, as nativism and exclusion also produce group solidarity and mass mobilizations, resistance, and, ultimately, social change. Furthermore, Trump’s rhetoric is not original. While it has activated a group of Whites across the United States who fear demographic change, it could also shift the political contours of the country. For example, as California was experiencing immigration-driven demographic change in the 1990s, Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant and racist reelection campaign for governor of California in 1994 targeted undocumented Latinos in rhetoric and policy. Wilson’s anti-immigrant campaign galvanized Latinos and other immigrant groups. The Wilson era gave rise to a new generation of Latino politicians, now wielding unprecedented progressive power in the state, increases in naturalization and voting, and long-term multiracial community organizing.61 As a result, California turned solidly blue in the following decades and, in the absence of federal immigration reform, created a structure of state-level citizenship for undocumented Americans.62

Indeed, in four years under Trump, we witnessed major nationwide protests, federal judges made important rulings blocking a number of Trump’s unlawful and racist policies, and institutional agents in government blew the whistle to decry Trump’s dehumanizing policies. We saw widespread support for Black Lives Matter and the movement for racial justice. We also saw the fruits of deep-seated multiracial grassroots organizing in Georgia and Arizona, reminiscent of California, that turned these states blue and helped to defeat Trump in the 2020 election. Lessons are also to be learned from the immigrant youth movement that organized and gave us the Dream Act and DACA.

It is clear that White supremacy and racism are deeply rooted in American society and that race and racialization processes shape immigration policy decisions, inspire discrimination and White nationalist racism and violence, and shape Latinos’ identification and feelings of belonging. Also evident is that the Trump era will affect Latinos’ identities and experiences of racism and exacerbate existing racial inequalities for generations to come. As scholars continue to analyze the effects of the Trump presidency, we join others by calling on immigration and race/ethnicity scholars to integrate theories of race and racism into studies of the Latino experience in the United States, for the two cannot be disentangled.63


  • 1U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Hispanic Population to Reach 111 Million by 2060,” October 9, 2018.
  • 2Cristina Mora, Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).
  • 3Scholars debate whether Latinos are an ethnic or racialized minority group. We use the term ethnoracial to capture the processes of racialization that exclude various Latino national-origin groups on the basis of culture, race, mestizaje, phenotype, and ancestry.
  • 4Jens Manuel Krogstad and Mark Hugo Lopez, “The Hispanic Nativity Shift,” Pew Research Center, April 29, 2014.
  • 5Renne Stepler and Mark Hugo Lopez, “U.S. Latino Population Growth and Dispersion Has Slowed Since Onset of the Great Recession,” Pew Research Center, September 8, 2016; and Douglas Massey, “Creating the Exclusionist Society: From the War on Poverty to the War on Immigrants,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 43 (1) (2020): 18–37.
  • 6Dowell Meyers, Immigrants and Boomers (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007).
  • 7Brenda Major, Alison Blodorn, and Gregory Major Blascovich, “The Threat of Increasing Diversity: Why Many White Americans Support Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 21 (6) (2018): 931–940; Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, “More Diverse Yet Less Tolerant? How the Increasingly Diverse Racial Landscape Affects White Americans’ Racial Attitudes,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 40 (6) (2014): 750–761; and Maureen Craig, J. M. Rucker, and Jennifer Richeson, “Racial and Political Dynamics of an Approaching ‘Majority-Minority’ United States,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 677 (1) (2018): 204–214.
  • 8We thank Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo for critical comments and suggestions that helped to improve this essay.
  • 9Michael T. Light and Ty Miller, “Does Undocumented Immigration Increase Violent Crime?” Criminology 56 (2) (2018): 370–401; Pia Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny, “Do Immigrants Threaten U.S. Public Safety?” Journal on Migration and Human Security 7 (3) (2019): 52–61; Diana Mutz, “Status Threat, Not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018); Mark Hooghe and Ruth Dassonneville, “Explaining the Trump Vote,” Political Science and Politics 51 (3) (2018): 528–534; and H. Samy Alim, “Introducing Raciolinguistics: Racing Language and Languaging Race in Hyperracial Times,” in Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race, ed. H. Samy Alim, John R. Rickford, and Arnetha F. Ball (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  • 10Arlie Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land (New York: New Press, 2016).
  • 11David T. Wellman, Portraits of White Racism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
  • 12Joe R. Feagin, Racist America (New York: Routledge, 2014).
  • 13Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2014).
  • 14Tanya Golash-Boza, “A Critical and Comprehensive Sociological Theory of Race and Racism,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 2 (2) (2016): 129–141.
  • 15Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
  • 16Natalia Molina, How Race is Made in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).
  • 17Wendy Moore, Reproducing Racism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008); and Victor A. Ray, “Theory of Racialized Organizations,” American Sociological Review 84 (1) (2019): 26–53.
  • 18Leo Chavez, The Latino Threat (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2013); and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, “Women and Children First: New Directions in Anti-Immigrant Politics,” Socialist Review 25 (1) (1995): 169–189.
  • 19Otto Santa Ana, Brown Tide Rising (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002); and Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, The Asian American Achievement Paradox (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2015).
  • 20Joane Nagel, “Constructing Ethnicity: Creating and Recreating Ethnic Identity and Culture,” Social Problems 41 (1) (1994): 152–176.
  • 21Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand, and Karen Pren, “Why Border Enforcement Backfired,” American Journal of Sociology 121 (5) (2016): 1557–1600.
  • 22William P. Simmons, Cecilia Menjívar, and Elizabeth Salerno Valdez, “The Gendered Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement: Latinas’ Social Isolation in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix,” International Migration Review (2020).
  • 23Tanya Golash-Boza and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, “Latino Immigrant Men and the Deportation Crisis: A Gendered Racial Removal Program,” Latino Studies 11 (3) (2013).
  • 24Massey, “Creating the Exclusionist Society.”
  • 25Jean Guerrero, Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda (New York: William Morrow, 2020).
  • 26Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy J. Abrego, “Legal Violence: Immigration Law and the Lives of Central American Immigrants,” American Journal of Sociology 117 (5) (2012): 1380–1421.
  • 27Ayal Feinberg, Regina Branton, and Valerie Martinez-Ebers, “Counties that Hosted a 2016 Trump Rally Saw a 226 Percent Increase in Hate Crimes,” The Washington Post, March 22, 2019.
  • 28Benjamin Newman, Jennifer Merolla, Sono Shah, et al., “The Trump Effect: An Experimental Investigation of the Emboldening Effect of Racially Inflammatory Elite Communication,” British Journal of Political Science (2020): 1–21.
  • 29Jessica Gant Shafer, “Donald Trump’s ‘Political Incorrectness’: Neoliberalism as Frontstage Racism on Social Media,” Social Media & Society 3 (3) (2017).
  • 30Tomás Almaguer, Racial Fault Lines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
  • 31Douglas Massey, “Racial Formation in Theory and Practice: The Case of Mexicans in the United States,” Race and Social Problems 1 (1) (2009): 12–26.
  • 32Jessica Vasquez, Mexican Americans Across Generations (New York: New York University Press, 2011).
  • 33Mark Hugo-Lopez, Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “More Latinos Have Serious Concerns about Their Place in America Under Trump,” Pew Research Center, October 28, 2018.
  • 34Asad L. Asad and Eva Rosen, “Hiding within Racial Hierarchies: How Undocumented Immigrants Make Residential Decisions in an American City,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 45 (11) (2018): 1857–1882; and Leah Schmalzbauer, The Last Best Place? Gender, Family, and Migration in the New West (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2015).
  • 35Mary C. Waters and Philip Kasinitz, “The War on Crime and the War on Immigrants: Racial and Legal Exclusion in 21st Century United States,” in Fear, Anxiety, and National Identity: Immigration and Belonging in North America and Western Europe, ed. Nancy Foner and Patrick Simon (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2015).
  • 36Stephanie Canizales, “Measures to Lessen U.S.-Mexican Border Crossings Put Migrants in Greater Danger,” The Globe Post, July 22, 2019.
  • 37Joanna Dreby, Everyday Illegal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).
  • 38Laura E. Enriquez, Of Love and Papers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2020).
  • 39Lopez et al., “More Latinos Have Serious Concerns about Their Place in America Under Trump.”
  • 40Raymond Rocco, Transforming Citizenship, 1st ed. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014).
  • 41Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004).
  • 42Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz, Generations of Exclusion (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008); and Vasquez, Mexican Americans Across Generations.
  • 43Amon Emeka and Jody Agius Vallejo, “Non-Hispanics with Latin American Ancestry,” Social Science Research 40 (2011): 1547–1563; and Tanya Golash-Boza, “Dropping the Hyphen? Becoming Latino(a)-American through Racialized Assimilation,” Social Forces 85 (1) (2006): 27–56.
  • 44Nilda Flores-Gonzalez, Citizens but Not Americans (New York: New York University Press, 2017).
  • 45Ariana Valle, “Race and the Empire-State: Puerto Ricans’ Unequal U.S. Citizenship,” Sociology of Race & Ethnicity 5 (1) (2019): 26–40.
  • 46Massey, “Creating the Exclusionist Society.”
  • 47Jessica Vasquez, “Blurred Borders for Some but Not ‘Others’: Racialization, ‘Flexible Ethnicity,’ Gender, and Third-Generation Mexican American Identity,” Sociological Perspectives 53 (1) (2010): 45–71.
  • 48Maylei Blackwell, Floridalma Boj Lopez, and Luis Urrieta Jr., “Introduction: Critical Latinx Indigeneities,” Latino Studies 15 (2) (2017): 126–137; and Stephanie L. Canizales, “Support and Setback: The Role of Religion in the Incorporation of Unaccompanied Indigenous Youth in Los Angeles,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 38 (10) (2018): 1831–1847.
  • 49Jody Agius Vallejo, Barrios to Burbs (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2012); Jody Agius Vallejo and Stephanie L. Canizales, “Ethnic Capitalists: How Race, Class, and Gender Shape Entrepreneurial Incorporation among Professional Latino/as,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 39 (9) (2016): 1637–1656; and Vasquez, Mexican Americans Across Generations.
  • 50Glenda Flores, Latina Teachers (New York: New York University Press, 2017); and Zulema Valdez, The New Entrepreneurs (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).
  • 51Amada Armenta, Protect, Serve, and Deport (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017).
  • 52Lawrence D. Bobo, “Racism in Trump’s America: Reflections on Culture, Sociology, and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” The British Journal of Sociology 68 (2016); and Ian Haney-López, Dog Whistle Politics (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  • 53Haney-López, Dog Whistle Politics.
  • 54Alfonso Gonzales, “Trumpism, Authoritarian Neoliberalism, and Subaltern Latina/o Politics,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 42 (2) (2017): 147–164.
  • 55Edward Telles and Christina Sue, Durable Ethnicity (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  • 56Angela Gutierrez, Angela X. Ocampo, Matt A. Barreto, and Gary Segura, “Somos Más: How Racial Threat and Anger Mobilized Latino Voters in the Trump Era,” Political Research Quarterly 72 (4) (2019): 960–975.
  • 57Ibid.
  • 58Rubén G. Rumbaut, “Reaping What You Sow: Immigration, Youth, and Reactive Ethnicity,” Applied Developmental Science 22 (2) (2008).
  • 59Gutierrez et al., “Somos Más.”
  • 60Asad L. Asad, “Latinos’ Deportation Fears by Citizenship Status, 2007 to 2018,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117 (16) (2020): 8836–8844.
  • 61Gustavo Arellano, “Prop. 187 Forced a Generation to Put Fear Aside and Fight. It Transformed California, and Me,” The Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2019; Jody Agius Vallejo, “Latino Elites are Paying the California Dream Forward,” The Conversation, November 6, 2017; and Manuel Pastor, State of Resistance (New York: The New Press, 2018).
  • 62Allan Colbern and S. Karthick Ramakrishnan, “Citizens of California: How the Golden State Went from Worst to First on Immigrant Rights,” New Political Science 40 (2) (2018): 353–367.
  • 63Rogelio Sáenz and Karen Manges Douglas, “A Call for the Racialization of Immigration Studies: On the Transition of Ethnic Immigrants to Racialized Immigrants,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1 (1) (2015): 166–180; Vilna Treitler, “Social Agency and White Supremacy in Immigration Studies,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1 (1) (2015): 153–165; and Zulema Valdez and Tanya Golash-Boza, “U.S. Racial and Ethnic Relations in the Twenty-First Century,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 40 (13) (2017): 2181–2209.