Cartoon depiction of Dreamers as gang members draws backlash from New Mexico residents

"In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions."

(Photo: Pixabay)
(Photo: Pixabay)

Lawmakers, advocates, and New Mexico residents were outraged after an Albuquerque newspaper ran an offensive cartoon depicting immigrant “Dreamers” holding up a white couple in an alley on Wednesday.

Published in the conservative newspaper’s opinion section, the cartoon depicts three men with weapons holding up a well-dressed white couple. In the cartoon, one man holds a gun in one hand and grabs the woman’s bag with the other. He wears a low-hanging pair of pants revealing his underwear. Another figure wears a vest with a skull on it and the phrase “MS 13,” referencing the deadly Salvadoran-American gang that first began in Los Angeles. The third figure wears a lit bomb belt and holds a bloody knife. A thought bubble extends from the well-dressed man who has his hands up. It says, “Now honey… I believe they prefer to be called ‘Dreamers’… or future Democrats.”

The use of the term “Dreamers” refers to immigrants who came to the country as children and are now the subject of intense political discourse in the nation’s capitol. President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative last September, phasing out temporary deportation protections and work authorization for nearly 800,000 immigrants. There’s been active debate over whether to provide permanent legislative relief for these individuals through a federal bill.

Democratic lawmakers were among the swell of people condemning the cartoon. State Sen. Linda Lopez (D) criticized the cartoon as “another glaring example of the ignorance, racism and hatred openly permeating throughout our country.” Both of New Mexico’s senators also criticized the “hateful” and “bigoted” depiction, calling for an apology from the Albuquerque Journal and pointing out that it could “sow division in our community.”

Staff writers with the Albuquerque Journal editorial board issued a response to the backlash, saying that the purpose of the cartoon was to “spark discussion and debate” but that in “hindsight,” the “cartoon only inflamed emotions.”

“Editorially, the Journal has supported a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 1.8 million Dreamers,” staff writers insisted.

“Our editorial pages offer views from all sides of the spectrum, and we realize some of the content will offend readers,” Journal Editor Karen Moses later said in a statement. “We do not agree with many of those views, but their purpose is to spark discussion and debate. In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions. This was not the intent, nor does the Journal condone racism or bigotry in any form.”

Yet frankly, the Journal should have known that the intent was quite literally as racist as the cartoon portrayal of Dreamers. Cartoonist Sean Delonas has come under fire before for other depictions that relied on crude stereotypes of political issues. And the Journal should have also known that cartoons like these do not “spark discussion,” but reinforce the claim that Dreamers are exactly as scary as the Trump administration and many Republican lawmakers have made them out to be.

Perhaps the most offensive problem with the cartoon is that it’s factually wrong. DACA recipients must undergo a criminal background check before they are approved for the program. The federal Dream Act, a bill that first arose in 2001, which would have provided permanent protections for certain immigrants, would also require applicants to submit to a criminal background check. And any federal bills that Congress is currently debating also subjects its applicants to background checks.

But Delonas’ cartoon relies on the persistent myth that immigrants, particularly undocumented people, are prone to criminal behavior. As ThinkProgress reporter Alan Pyke reported, studies show “the actual quantitative reality is that immigrants in general and undocumented ones in particular are less prone to criminality than the average U.S. citizen.”

Republican politicians have relied on this kind of trope to dismiss immigrant-friendly policies. Last week, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R) released an ad depicting a hooded man gunning down a white woman as a narrator links the violence to undocumented immigrants. In 2015, then-presidential candidate Trump released an ad featuring undocumented criminal killers. And last year, two Republican gubernatorial candidates from Virginia and New Jersey separately released ads linking undocumented immigrants with criminals and killers.

“This latest show of bigotry does not reflect the true nature and values of the people of our state –with a proud history of welcoming diversity and cherishing the cultural, social and economic contributions from immigrant families,” Gabriela Hernandez, executive director for NM Dream Team & southwest regional organizer for United We Dream, said in a statement. “We must continue pushing back against this sort of fear mongering and misrepresentation of our communities. Hate, bigotry, xenophobia or racism have no place in [New Mexico] and neither should a newspaper attempting to divide our communities through the spread of a racist ideology.”