The 2010 U.S. Census counted 50.5 million Latinos. We account for 16.3 percent of the residents of the country—a percentage that is expected to grow given that Latinos represent more than 23 percent of the population among children ages 17 and under.
Given this, it is undeniable that Latinos will represent a large share of the electorate in the coming decades. Scholars, commentators and politicians have repeatedly stated the importance that Hispanic voters will have in deciding future elections. However, Latinos will not become a true political force until we address a critical challenge: our low level of political engagement.
Historically, Latinos have been a politically disengaged group. We have had less than average participation in elections, and hardly ever become involved in policy debates, advocacy groups or town meetings. A poll by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2010 showed that only 51 percent of Hispanic-registered voters were certain that they would vote in that year’s election (in contrast to 70 percent of all voters.) Other statistics confirmed this tendency: only 26 percent have attended a public meeting or demonstration, 22 percent have contacted an elected official and 7 percent have worked for a candidate. Even when a critical issue like the Dream Act is at stake, Latino involvement waned relatively fast.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón today announced that his government will work to defend the rights of dual nationals adversely affected by the passage last week of the controversial Arizona state law SB1070. His concern was echoed by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, among others.
Calderón described the new law, which directs police to determine the immigration status of people suspected of being unlawfully present in the United States, as “inhumane, unacceptable, discriminatory and unjust.” Critics have raised concerns that SB1070 will likely lead to racial profiling and will inadvertently target Arizona’s legal Latino immigrant community.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza says that the law creates the basis for racial discrimination and that the regulation of immigration should not come at the “cost of not respecting human rights, the rights of the people and by creating stereotypes that do not correspond to reality.” The dialogue over the Arizona law took place at an OAS conference on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities held in San Salvador.
Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom added that the law was in total contradiction to the policies of President Obama and his efforts to “humanize” immigration laws in the United States. The chancellor of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, took the opportunity to reiterate his government’s “concern and discontent” over the signing of SB1070.
President Calderón’s statements support the notion of an organized legal defense of migrant rights by Mexican expatriates abroad and calls on the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores and its consulates abroad to assist in those efforts.
The clock is now ticking for enactment of SB 1070—
When it goes into effect—90 days after the legislative session ends, or likely mid-late summer—SB 1070 mandates law enforcement to “determine the immigration status” of a person “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” It also makes it illegal to transport somebody who may be unauthorized to be in the U.S. and it builds on previous Arizona law in punishing employers who may unknowingly have undocumented workers.
The effects of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act are anything but what the law’s title says it will do. In fact, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the bill saying it could erode trust with immigrants and would distract police from dealing with more serious problems.