Sunday, January 20, 2008

2007 -- wildest ride ever for Hispanics

By ALEX MENESES MIYASHITA
Hispanic Link
Thursday, January 03, 2008

Never in history have Hispanics been the focus or fulcrum of so many major stories as in 2007.

Headline glare ranged from immigration turmoil to the dreary departure of Alberto Gonzales, the nation's first Hispanic attorney general.

Thirteen '07 occurrences were identified by Hispanic Link editors and columnists as of unique and vital significance to the nation's 44 million Latinos. Congress' rejection of comprehensive immigration legislation was deemed of greatest significance by most of the 10 surveyed journalists.

In order of emphasis, the episodes were:

1) FEDERAL IMMIGRATION REFORM: The community's position remains that a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who live here now must be included.

A bipartisan proposal failed to gather enough steam in the Senate last June. And as President Bush's initial support waned, additional reform attempts went nowhere. The AgJOBS bill and Dream Act, each of which addressed some Hispanic concerns, also eventually floundered.

2) STATE IMMIGRATION BILLS: More than 1,500 immigration bills were introduced at the state level in 2007, nearly tripling the number submitted in 2006, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Main areas addressed were employment, education, health, driver's licenses and other forms of identification, public benefits, law enforcement and human trafficking. While the majority of them were restrictive in nature, some aimed to integrate or benefit immigrants.

Spread among 46 states, a total of 244 bills became law. The NCSL attributed the spike to federal government inaction.

3) PROTEST VS. PBS, KEN BURNS: University of Texas-Austin journalism professor Maggie Rivas Rodriguez and San Diego activist Gus Chavez spearheaded a campaign to give recognition to some half-million Latinos who fought in World War II. They demanded the inclusion of the Hispanic experience, which was completely omitted, in filmmaker Ken Burns' 15-hour PBS documentary "The War."

Reacting to intense pressure, Burns added interviews with two Latino veterans. "The War" was released Sept. 23, ironically coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanic leaders and Congress members continue to denounce the effort and press for more, particularly with regard to materials being distributed to schools.

4) RICHARDSON RUNS FOR PRESIDENT: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, announced May 21 his candidacy for U.S. president. While frequently acknowledged as best qualified by experience for the position, he usually polls fourth behind Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Analysts often mention him as a prospective vice-presidential candidate.

5) LATINO COMMUNITY RESPONSES: Latino and immigrant activists strengthened their relationships and flexed their united political muscle in 2007 following massive grass-roots protests nationwide the year before against House passage in December '05 of an enforcement-only immigration bill. Participation in '06 demonstrations in hundreds of cities was topped by Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, each estimated at about half a million.

6) ALBERTO GONZALES RESIGNS: Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the nation's first Latino to hold the position, resigned Aug. 27 after enduring months of press criticism and calls for his resignation from Democratic and some Republican elected leaders. Gonzales was targeted for the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, some reputedly motivated by politics.

Civil-rights groups cheered his resignation as they related his term to controversies such as the abuses in Abu Ghraib. National Latino organizations remained mostly silent about his resignation.

7) ELVIRA ARELLANO DEPORTED: During her year in a Chicago church sanctuary after defying a deportation order, Mexican Elvira Arellano symbolized the plight of undocumented parents whose children were born in the United States. Her son, Saul, 7, is one of 3 million U.S.-born children of undocumented parents.

After leaving her sanctuary to travel and meet with activist supporters, Arellano was seized in Los Angeles Aug. 19 and immediately deported. She visits with her son and continues to organize migrants in the border city of Tijuana.

8) BORDER WALL: Mexican government leaders joined U.S. Latino groups in opposing construction of a 900-mile wall sealing off Mexico from the United States.

9) MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE: The federal minimum wage increased for the first time in 10 years -- from $5.15 to $5.85 an hour, with increments of 70 cents, to $6.55 by July 2008 and $7.25 by July 2009.

Advocates project 1.3 million Latino workers and their families will be helped.

10) CITIZENSHIP DRIVE: Latino organizations are credited with drives that added a million persons to U.S. citizenship roles in 2007.

The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute estimates 9.3 million Hispanics will vote in '08.

11) HAZLETON ORDINANCE STRICKEN: An ordinance approved by the Hazleton, Pa., city council that would have forced landlords and employers to require proof of legal status before renting or hiring was struck down by a federal judge July 26 as unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union and Puerto Rico Legal Defense & Education Fund led the battle in court.

12) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DEBATES: Most Republican candidates ducked public debates on Hispanic and race issues, while candidates of both parties ignored addressing matters of importance to the Latino community or gave evasive responses when questioned.

13) USCIS SERVICE FEE INCREASES: Costs to obtain citizenship increased from $475 to $675 and $300 to $1,010 for permanent residency. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services claimed the boosts were needed to provide better service and to strengthen its technology.

Hispanic groups lobbied extensively to block the hikes, arguing they would leave citizenship and permanent residency out of reach for many Latino families.

USCIS warned that processing delays were likely. This set off an uproar among Hispanic leaders who fear the backlogs will keep thousands from voting in 2008.

(Alex Meneses Miyashita is editor of the national Hispanic Link Weekly Report. Reach him at editor(at)hispaniclink.org.)

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