Immigrants Don’t Stay Immigrants For Long
It’s understandable that immigrants are seen as passive, compared to the citizens who make decisions. Immigrants are not heard—especially not in English—but are the topic of conversation. They are recent arrivals, interlopers. In a campaign year, they can become a major campaign issue without having a vote or even a voice in the matter.
That’s been the case since British immigrants displaced the Indians and created a new nation. Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and Russians—every new group was first considered sub-standard by earlier immigrants already integrated into the pecking order. Immigrants, in their different-ness, necessarily disrupt the existing social order before they join it.
The Irish were originally considered a lazy besotted lot of irredeemable papists. But they scaled the ladders of power, attaining civic influence and Hollywood fame. Tip O’Neil, Joseph Kennedy and then John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, are reminders of the ascent of the Irish in Washington. Other groups can tell similar stories in business, politics, science and the arts.
Why would the narrative be different for the more recent immigrants of the years after immigration was opened to non-Europeans? Speaking two or more languages, and not just one, could hardly be a disadvantage. How long will it take for Mexicans, for example (the new ones, not only the ones who were there before the country expanded to take them in) to be seen as part of the natural landscape.
Or the Chinese, the Central Americans, the Africans (the new ones, not only the ones brought as slaves who have fought their way to a space in the power structures)? At least one son of a Kenyan man has made a remarkable political ascent in recent times.
Last month, the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) of the University of Southern California made some projections that have something to say about Latinos in the U.S. The TRPI expects nine million Latinos to vote in 2008, for an increase of 1,7 million voters, or 23%, since 2004, due mostly to naturalization and young people coming of age.
Here are some observations from TRPI:
The potential impact of a Latino voting bloc is particularly high in states with large concentrations of Latinos. For instance, in California, it takes a mere 3.1% of Latino voters to cause a 1% shift in the state’s presidential election results. Similarly, in Florida only 4.5% of Latino voters are needed to create a 1% statewide shift in the vote.
Even in non-traditional Latino states, such as Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Washington, we will see thousands of new Latino voters in 2008. Rudy de la Garza, TRPI Vice President, notes however that, "even with such substantial increases, Latinos must significantly increase their rates of registration and voting in order to influence the election’s results".
It’s not clear what the near-term consequences could be. There is no "Latino voting bloc," even if there is some coincidence of opinion among sub-groups. Same for Asians and Africans and Europeans. But immigrants don’t stay immigrants for long. Some will return home, some will be deported. The others, or their children, will mostly learn English, become citizens, and vote. And with the right numbers, and sufficient campaign contributions, they, too, will be heard. They, too, will be making decisions.