Changing the Face of Politics

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

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