How immigrants are changing US politics

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How immigrants are changing US politics

70 percent of Latinos voted for Barack Obama. So Republicans might need to change their attitude to immigrants. Mark Engler reports.

A terrible thing has happened in the US for racists – is this the apocalypse the Mayans predicted?: in 2012, for the first time, more than half of all babies born in the US belong to ethnic minorities. If this continues, white people (or ‘non-Hispanic whites’, to be more accurate) will become a racial minority in the US in about 2040.

For non-racists, these changes show a great strength of the US: it is a nation of immigrants. We can celebrate diversity or hope for the return of ‘traditional America’, but whatever we think, immigrants are already changing US politics.

Now, Latinos are a small percentage of voters. But in “swing states” (swinging between Democrat and Republican), they can be extremely important. Nearly all Latinos voted for Barack Obama – about 70 percent – and this helped decide the results in swing states such as Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida.

US conservatives, find it very difficult to understand how anyone could not agree to their programme of using government to control women’s uteruses, invade foreign countries, and employ lawyers to change the tax code for the one per cent super-rich. So they have found an explanation. They say that President Obama bought Latinos’ votes with ‘gifts’. An example, they give is the White House decision last summer to stop deportations of young immigrants who came to the US as children and are now at college or in the military. It’s true that this was good for Latino communities. But it is an offensive idea that Obama did this only to get votes.

This shows how much US conservatives look down on Latinos. And it also shows how ignorant they are of all the activism that forced the White House to stand up for immigrant rights.

In recent years, young advocates who call themselves dreamers have organized the Dream Act and forced change. Like the gay liberation movement, dreamers have ‘come out’ at public events. They risked deportation by showing they were immigrants with no documents. They wanted an end to fear.

‘We need to live without fear because the fear paralyses us,’ one activist, 24-year-old Jonathan Perez, said in 2011. ‘If we stay quiet, we stay in the shadows.’

Some people made public statements and then went further. When Obama’s government showed that it would de-prioritize deporting immigrants who had come to the country as children, Perez, along with another dreamer, tested this idea in a dramatic way: they marched into an immigration office in conservative Alabama, said that they didn’t have visas, and dared the administration to do something about it publicly.

Before the election, other dreamers occupied Obama campaign offices in Denver, Oakland, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Detroit. It was only after all this that the White House decided that reforming immigration reform was better than more embarrassment from activists.

Now, after the election, conservatives are trying to catch up. The Republican Party is divided about whether to change its strict immigration ideas. Maybe it can’t change, even if it wants to.

But ultimately, who cares? A nation of immigrants has spoken. It is telling the future.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus. See his website Democracy

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