Flipping through an American history textbook, you will see countless examples dating back to the founding of the country of anti-immigration laws and policies that have gained the support of politicians and legislatures. Since the eighteenth century, these laws targeted newly arrived immigrants and were meant to silence and repress a growing voting bloc.
In recent history, 1994 to be exact, California passed Proposition 187, the nation's first anti-immigrant state-wide ballot initiative that unfairly targeted the Latino community and restricted social services such as education. That the ballot initiative gained support from a majority of Californian voters and was signed into state law highlighted not only how quickly fear and misinformation can impact an election, but also how a united stand from Labor, immigrants, Latinos and civil rights groups can change the course of history.
Ads supporting the initiative that also pushed for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson's reelection (a campaign that failed) showed, through night-vision lens, Latinos running across the border. These ads capitalized on voters' suspicion and fear to promote anti-immigrant sentiment. After passage, the bill was detrimental to California: It kept children out of schools, sick people from getting the care they required and stopped hard-working people from finding the jobs they desperately needed. The ill effects of the bill were recognized by newly engaged Latino voters and kept Republicans, the supporters of Prop. 187, from winning any statewide office for nearly two decades.
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Prop. 187, and it also marks when the tide turned for Latinos in California. They banded together to fight against this unjust proposal, successfully repealing it and restoring basic human rights to immigrant populations. In doing so, Latinos established themselves as a voting bloc to be taken seriously. To mark this milestone, The Latino Victory Foundation, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Education Association and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda are gathering in Arizona to commemorate the twentieth anniversary and develop a framework for building political power in Arizona and states across the nation.
Legislation like Operation Streamline, a program requiring federal prosecution and jail time for immigrants crossing the border illegally, and Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070), which requires all immigrants to carry documentation with them at all times, are contemporary examples of such anti-immigration laws Arizonans currently face.
Operation Streamline has forced courts to cut corners and hold hearings with numerous defendants at once. When up to 80 first-time offenders plead guilty at a time, due process has clearly been denied. Enforcing this law also redirects critical resources from fighting drug smuggling, human trafficking and violent crimes.
To ensure enforcement of SB 1070, officers are forced to determine an individual's legal status by relying entirely on racial profiling during routine traffic stops and other low-level investigations, again denying the dignity of Latinos in the state.
With more Latinos eligible to vote this year than in previous elections, it is crucial that we make our voices heard on Election Day. Organizations like ours are committed to educating voters on their right to vote and the importance of being heard on Election Day and in the policy fights after elections.
Nationwide, Latinos are poised to vote in record numbers, and when that happens, elected leaders will know that they must address issues like immigration reform. After gridlock in Congress and delayed executive action on immigration from President Obama, it is crucial that Latinos go to the polls and demonstrate the power of their voice. Latinos have a responsibility to hold elected officials accountable, just as they did in California, and encourage the people of Arizona to stand up and speak out against efforts that harm families.