Under the Shadow of Trump: Portrayals of Undocumented Youth in Young Adult fiction from 2016-2017.

AuthorSalas, Rachel G.
PositionDonald Trump - Report

When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we're getting. And it only makes common sense. They're sending us not the right people.

It's coming from more than Mexico. It's coming from all over South and Latin America, and it's coming probably--probably--from the Middle East. But we don't know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don't know what's happening. And it's got to stop and it's got to stop fast. 2015 announcement speeches of 2016 presidential hopefuls, (Time, 2015)


During President Trump's 2015-2016 presidential campaign and into his first year in office he has made his position about undocumented immigrants and immigrants from Mexico and Latin American countries clear. In a closed door meeting held in the Oval office on January 11, 2018 Senator Dick Durbin related that the President said, "things which were hate-filled, vile and racists" (Sullivan, 2018) as he spoke about immigrants from African nations and others under Temporary Protective Status (TPS) such as those from Haiti and El Salvador. While the word choice in that specific meeting was being parsed in the media the president's rhetoric on undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America has been clearly detailed in his campaign speeches and presidential rallies calling them criminals, rapists, drug dealers, murders, and using the term illegal aliens which in itself connotes a sense of danger and otherness. His hate-filled speech is used to foment a psychological uprising against and to create an environment of fear about those "illegal aliens" who enter our country and our homes to rape and murder us. Yet, the data do not support his abhorrent rants. Nowrasteh (2015) reviewed the research on immigrant criminality and concluded:

Both the Census-data driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions. There are numerous reasons why immigrant criminality is lower than native criminality. One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law (Nowrasteh, 2015).

Ignoring the research data the president has stepped up measures to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants no matter of their perceived "criminal" status. According to a Washington Times article (Miller, 2017) border crossings are at their lowest in 45 years, while interior arrests, such as the recent raids on 7-eleven convenience stores nationwide have increase as well as overall arrests of undocumented immigrants.

It is under this constant barrage of denigration and vilification of undocumented immigrants that pours forth almost daily from the Trump administration and assails the very air around us that I sought to explore how undocumented immigrant youth were portrayed in young adult (YA) books published during his presidential campaign and into his first year in office. It is important for young adults to read, understand and learn from books that have substantial elements of truth in them no matter if the person who holds the highest office in the nation is perpetuating stories that contradict those truths.

Researcher Lens

I must position myself as a researcher and discuss my interest in books that depict undocumented immigrants. I am a Mexican American. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Both my parents were born in Mexico. My father came into this country as a seven-year old undocumented youth. He and his family fled the Mexican Revolution and sought a life of peace in the United States. My father and his family came into this country when the borders were considered open and before the term "illegal alien" was used. His family established residency as Californians, worked on the railroad, in furniture manufacturing and as gardeners. My father attended Los Angeles public school through eighth grade, began working and did not become a naturalized citizen until after he had enlisted in the army during World War II, spent four years fighting in the European campaign as an infantryman and was twice wounded in battle. As a U.S. citizen he returned to Mexico, married my mother and brought her to the U.S. legally. My father rarely spoke of his journey from Zacatecas, Mexico to California perhaps because he was a young boy and his recollection was not clear. He did tell one story but it focused on fleeing Mexico not the journey north. He told us how they fled with his aunt and cousins and that his aunt was pregnant at the time. A Mexican soldier thinking she was hiding something of value under her dress took the butt of a rifle and jammed it violently into his aunt's midsection to make sure she was indeed pregnant. Perhaps the long arduous journey north paled in comparison to fleeing the horrors of the revolution and war. While my father did not talk much about his journey north the elementary students I taught often shared their harrowing stories of border crossing with me. They would tell me bits and pieces of their story before, during or after school until I had a thorough picture of what they went through or they felt they had shared enough. I have friends who were or currently are undocumented and they too have described the arduous and dangerous journey north as well as their reasons for leaving their home country. I brought all of these stories and information on "undocumentedness" to the reading of the young adult texts focused in this paper.

Theoretical Framework

Critical Multicultural Analysis (CMA) as defined by Botelho & Rudman (2009) uses a critical stance to examine text within a cultural, historical and linguistic context and a multicultural lens to view the multiple world views and histories embedded in texts and brought forward by the reader. CMA was used as a conceptual frame to closely analyze and interrogate the selected works of fiction. CMA according to Johnson and Gasiewicz (2017) "is an important tool for text analysis that compels readers to examine representations of power, authenticity, accuracy, and the sociopolitical and historical context present in the narrative" (p. 29). Furthermore, CMA provides an analytical lens that demands close scrutiny of whose story is told, how it's told and the power relations that are established, how identity develops, language is used and issues of social justice are situated within and beyond the literature (Botelho & Rudman, 2009). CMA can highlight how power is introduced and used in young adult literature dissecting how characters are situated, and portrayed through language and descriptive interactions. Botelho and Rudman 2009 argue that CMA "requires examination of the historical, sociopolitical, and discursive forces that have constructed these texts" (p. 120). In order to do this an examination of how dominant ideologies and political and social discourses are interwoven overtly and subliminally in texts is required. To begin this process a discussion of the terms illegal alien/illegal immigrant versus undocumented immigrant/youth is needed.

Illegal Alien vs Undocumented Immigrant

Throughout this paper, unless quoting Trump, the federal immigration laws (who still use the term illegal alien) or the selected text, I chose to use the word undocumented immigrant or undocumented youth. According to Chomsky (2014),

The 1924 law, in addition to establishing the quota system, created the concept of illegality by making entry without inspection illegal, and making deportability permanent by eliminating the statute of limitations. Before 1924, what made a person deportable was his or her membership in an excluded class; furthermore, after the person had been in the country for a period of time, his or her presence became legal despite prior excludability. Now, a person who entered without inspection could be, technically, "illegal" (pp 45). Chomsky also notes that the term "illegal" immigrant did not apply to Mexicans who were not considered immigrants but migrants who could cross the border easily until 1965 when equal quotas were imposed on all countries and the terms illegal alien and illegal immigrants became part of the legal and social lexicon. There have been efforts dating back to the 1990s to eliminate the use of...

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