Entry 7: Attrition [uh-trish-uh n]
I read an article on numberusa.com titled “Attrition Through Enforcement is the True
Middle-Ground for Enforcement,” that argued that the new anti-immigration
strategy is not deportation en mass but the creation of a culture so hostile
towards immigrants that they will willingly return to their country of origin. “War
by Attrition,” they call this.
That is to say you don’t need constant police presence in a community to make that
community afraid. Constant presence in the media will suffice to make that
community internalize fear and even if an officer is not physically present,
fear will be present.
Two things come into play in this game—hegemony and deviance. Hegemony being the
enforcement without coercion; in other words the feeling that one has to follow
a social norm even though not complying won’t put you in jail.
Then there are deviants. The most obvious forms of deviants are those who break a law.
However, we are seeing a detachment of deviance from the laws and an attachment
of deviance to the brown body. What this means is that a young, brown, Latino
male does not have to commit a crime to be considered deviant—the public has
internalized that a person with such an identity is deviant because he is a
young, brown, Latino male.
The act was considered criminal. Now the body is the criminal. It is different from saying
all young men are thieves — but we still arrest only those who steal. A crime
must be committed first. Now we use the body as evidence. The crime does not have
to be committed. Latinos need not be arrested. Quick—Think of an immigrant. Did
you think of a [email protected]?
To see the dangers of pairing deviance with bodies, take into consideration immigration
state laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and the more recent Alabama’s HB 56 which
would give police officers the right to ask for proof of legal residency. Who
is targeted? It’s impossible to identify an undocumented immigrant like you can
identify a thief running out of the store with a stereo in hand. An identifier
is necessary. The body is the identifier. It’s in the skin and it can’t be
detached; it’s a branding iron; it’s a spot that won’t rub off.
It is no surprise that raids happen in swap meets and check points are set up in the
Eastern Coachella Valley, Eastern Salinas, East Los Angeles—places where bodies
are brown, where income is low, places where deviants live.
But even if the raids stop tomorrow, a deeper, more dangerous hegemonic control is
rising—one that doesn’t require constant police presence. Those who witnessed
the raids on the television who saw the features and language of those taken
away, of those that disappeared will undoubtedly make the association—brown is
Hostility can arise and racism can surge if we do not take great care of the people whose
roots have been uprooted by economic catastrophes caused by hands not their
own; hostility can run rampant against those whose roots are here from
childhood, who were born here, whose families were here when this was Nueva
España and those were the British Colonies.
The danger goes beyond association. If I walk into a room and an old lady gives me a dirty
look because she thinks I’m undocumented that’s the least of my worries. What
does bring fear is when thousands of people don’t think us worthy of being in
this country. It’s dehumanizing and when one dehumanizes an entire community
one does not think them worthy of basic rights.
Ideas that were once thought inhumane gain some consideration: the negation of citizenship from
children born of immigrant parents, negation of a k-12 education to
undocumented immigrants, the negation of emergency room use.
This fear, this perpetual fear gnawing on the minds of the undocumented population, in the
mind of [email protected] when they walk by police, is the seeds of a hostile culture.
They will become so entrenched in this fear and it won’t let go and it will
make it impossible for those who are afraid of deportation not be able to live
like humans. The hope is, of course, to make them so afraid that they’ll leave
this country. But this country is their home. Where will they go?
Attrition is a dangerous step towards violence against any community, towards indifference
when human rights are violated and a dangerous step towards a group considered
a minority, who will be at the barrel-end of a population that thinks it’s okay
Attrition is dangerous because it allows criminality to be based on assumptions and if the
assumed are in danger of the assumers, they will have no one to call because
the police assume too.
Attrition is dangerous when people can’t go back to México or Guatemala, or wherever and
instead they try and cope because they have nowhere else to go and choose to
live with this label, and children grow with this brand of being deviant even
though they were born here, or came here at a young age, or have made this
place their home.