President Bush announced a plan that, if passed by Congress, would let illegal immigrants apply for three-year work visas. Critics saw it as a blatant campaign tactic to woo immigrant voters. And it may not be enough to counteract the labor campaigns described in this article. -- The Editors
Since September 11, we have seen a backlash against immigrant workers. We have a president and a Congress who, on the one hand, say that immigrants should be seen as an opportunity for America, but, on the other hand, pass a law prohibiting noncitizens from working as airport screeners, supposedly because of national security concerns.
About 37,000 immigrant noncitizens are currently serving in the armed forces. Another 13,000 to 15,000 are part of the reserves. Tens of thousands more are U.S.-born children of noncitizens and undocumented workers.
These soldiers love our country every bit as much as those to whom America offers more opportunity, more security, and more respect. But would our armed forces draw so disproportionately upon immigrants, people of color, and working-class people from every background if our economy offered jobs with regular raises, reliable health care, secure pensions, and promising futures for everyone who is willing to work? Would we still have so many black and brown, green card, and blue-collar soldiers and so few who are the children of Cabinet members and corporate executives?
So how can we build an America worthy of the heroes who fight for us, die for us, and work alongside us?
First, we need to educate, energize, and mobilize immigrant workers to become immigrant voters. To enact legislation on immigration reform, health care, and other issues important to immigrants and all working people, we need the political power to make it all happen.
The Service Employees International Union (www.seiu.org), together with other unions, churches, community organizations, and business organizations, is launching a national, nonpartisan immigrant voter registration and mobilization campaign called My Family Votes 100 Percent. Until now, only 25 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders and 27 percent of Latinos -- the two fastest growing ethnic groups
-- have participated in the political process. By putting our attention to registering unregistered citizens, and helping legal permanent residents obtain their citizenship, we could potentially grow the electorate with 5.5 million new Asian/Pacific Islander voters and 14 million new Latino voters. Together, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Latinos could account for almost 20 million new voters. Among African Americans, there are potentially 8.7 million new voters.
Add it up: People of color by these census categories -- Asian, Latino, and African American -- together could represent almost 30 million new voters. And we will mobilize many of these immigrant and minority voters in key battleground states like California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to elect a president and a Congress that will represent our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations -- not the greedy few in the corporate boardrooms.
Eliseo Medina is executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union. Reprinted from Democratic Left, a publication of the Democratic Socialists of America (Summer 2003). Subscriptions: $10/yr. (4 issues) from 180 Varick St., New York, NY 10014; www.dsausa.org