Changing the Face of Politics

30 million new immigrant and minority citizens could be eligible to vote this year

| March / April 2004

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.

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