First published in The Huffington Post, 03/23/2012
The events unfolding this week and announced for the next one remind us once again that Latinos in the United States are an intrinsic part of the population, and as such, are as interested and invested as every other American in the state of our union. When unemployment and foreclosure numbers rise, Latinos suffer; when the economy’s numbers improve they rejoice. And when civil rights cases jump to the front pages, they listen with rapt attention as the issue is always close to home.
The killing of young African-American Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, has ignited a wave of protests. The epicenter of the uproar is in Sanford, Florida, but indignation and protest over what happened to Martin has spread far and wide across the country, dominating local and national news conversations.
Although Zimmerman, according to his own father Robert, is Latino, the protests are not directed toward the Hispanic community, but, instead, against local police handling of the case. However, later in the week, as the debate turned national, additional uproar was ignited by Hispanic, Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera who tweeted “His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman.” Akin to blaming a sexual assault victim for what she was wearing, one had to wonder if Rivera actually believes what he says.
Nevertheless, Latinos in Sanford, who comprise 20% of the local population, are frequent victims of crime, abuse and discrimination there as well as everywhere, and certainly have a stake in seeing violence diminish and law enforcement procedures made accountable.
Latinos have been also an important part of the healthcare debate. After two years of political bickering, the healthcare reform law dubbed “Obamacare” by its opponents, will have its day in court.
Beginning this Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against the law in which the Latino community has high stakes. According to a fact-sheet distributed by the Leadership Conference, Latinos are much more likely to be uninsured than any other group and less likely to have employer-sponsored coverage. As the nation’s largest minority with 50 million residents, the economic and social impact of a large number of uninsured Latinos is something everyone should be aware of and seek to mitigate.
And, remember the 2012 Presidential campaign? It actually seems to have receded to a secondary level of public attention lately. The Republican presidential debates – our almost daily dose of pompous statements and incendiary declarations — have ended. And the perception that Mitt Romney has won the nomination seems to be the new credo. But maybe to offset this lack of interest, Florida’s former governor Jeb Bush resurfaced to promote Marco Rubio’s unlikely quest for a spot on the Republican ticket as Vice President. As we have discussed previously there is little chance that Latino voters across the U.S. would consider Rubio — the Cuban-American Republican senator from Florida — to represent their interests and thus shift their support to the Republican ticket. Perhaps this is why Rubio has so far answered the calls by his longtime political mentor Jeb Bush by repeating that he is not a candidate.
Discussing Rubio as a potential candidate will hardly convince Latinos that the GOP is paying attention to them, when at the same time they — including Rubio, a Tea Party favorite — haven’t stopped pandering to the extremes by advocating hard-line positions on issues like the economy, education, crime, and immigration.
But if Latinos are as interested as every other American in the first three of these issues, many of them are also profoundly and emotionally invested in the last one, immigration. This is why the news which may have most resonated this week for many Latinos could have been the decision by a federal appeals court in Dallas to uphold the ban on the patently discriminatory housing law in the city of Farmers Branch, Texas. The law had “called on the city’s building inspector to check the immigration status of anyone wanting to rent an apartment.”
As AOL Latino reporter Yolanda Gonzalez noted in a Spanish-language article, Farmers Branch spent more than 4 million taxpayer dollars trying to impose anti-immigrant laws which have been rejected by the courts, one by one, over the last few years.
Does the court’s decision signal a trend? Hard to say, as more ominous anti-immigrant laws that affect many more people — like SB1070 in Arizona, AB56 in Alabama and others — have been enacted in several states in the last two years, and the legal challenges against them are still working their way through the judicial system.
Meanwhile, young activists intensified their efforts to push for Congress’ approval of the DREAM Act, legislation that if approved, would grant legal immigration status to many undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when very young and who are now students or soldiers.
A small group of activists started a cross country march for the DREAM Act and are set to travel 3000 miles, from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and visiting 285 cities in support of this legislation.
At the same time, hundreds of undocumented students traveled to Albany, New York, “to educate and show legislators the faces and voices of those who would benefit from the passage of the New York DREAM Act,” a state version of the law.
And in Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio categorized the DREAM Act as “all politics,” protesting, in an interview for Channel 5 in Phoenix, against the decision by immigration officials not to deport local DREAM Act activists who had taken to the streets under the banner of “Undocumented and Unafraid” because not one of them had any record of violent crime.