Throughout 2012, issues related to both immigration and Latino rights in this country have continually bubbled to the surface of larger national debates about politics, society and the economy. In fact, there are few other topics that have garnered as much media scrutiny over the past year as state-led immigration reform, border security, the Latino vote and the DREAM Act. In 2012, both the United States and Mexico held presidential elections, both countries grappled with continued economic stagnation, the Supreme Court made a number of bold nation-shaping moves, and throughout it all, immigration stood at the center, both as a guiding post and a major obstacle.
In many ways, 2012 may be remembered as a year in which the U.S. Latino population truly came into its own, developing a strong and influential voice when it comes to shaping both public policy and the popular opinion. On a large scale, Latino voters have been credited as at least an important if not decisive factor in President Obama’s reelection to office. Although certainly not casting their votes as a singular, unified bloc, Latino voters roundly rejected the Republican Party in November, spurring calls within the Party to rethink its immigration-related positions.
On a smaller scale, Latinos in this country have become important participants in a variety of social movements, proving a commitment to social justice. In Arizona this summer, a group of protestors composed of both undocumented immigrants and their supporters garnered national media attention when they rode their “Undocubus” from Phoenix to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., as part of their “No Papers, No Fear” Ride for Justice. Throughout their trek, the riders spread awareness about the necessity for comprehensive immigration reform.
In large part due to the successes of activists in mobilizing the Latino populace and encouraging immigration reform, President Obama took a significant step toward the passage of the long-debated federal DREAM Act, when he announced a deferred action plan for undocumented youth in this country. Under the plan, undocumented individuals under the age of 30, brought to this country before they turned 16 and residing here for at least five years, may apply for a two year deportation deferral, provided they submit to background testing and either graduate from school or join the military. To date, over 13,000 Arizona residents have applied for deferred action, with over 367,000 applicants nationally. There have been 102,965 approvals thus far.
Despite important steps forward made by immigrants to this country and their supporters in 2012, there have been a number of significant failures for the populace as well. This is especially true in Arizona. Despite calls from protestors for his ouster and a Justice Department investigation into his office’s racial profiling activities, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was reelected to his position in November. Similarly, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was also reelected, despite accusations of anti-immigrant bias. The Pinal County jail, an often-maligned holding facility for suspected undocumented immigrants, was named one of the worst immigrant detention centers in the nation by Detention Watch Network. And in Tucson, no amount of protest from concerned citizens has thus far been able to restore the Tucson Unified School District’s now-defunct Mexican American Studies program.
In perhaps the biggest blow to Arizona immigrant rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that an embattled provision of anti-immigrant law SB 1070 requiring state and local law enforcement to verify the legal residency status of suspected undocumented immigrants encountered in their day-to-day duties is constitutional and should be allowed to stand. The ruling was a significant setback for those fighting racial profiling by law enforcement in the state and those opposed to the federal Secure Communities program.
As we head into 2013, it is certain that issues related to immigrants, immigration reform, Latino rights and the U.S.-Mexico border will continue to be at the forefront of larger national policy debates. Almost immediately after the elections this November, battled and bruised Republicans came out pledging to do more to promote immigration reform and court Latino voters. It is likely that some comprehensive immigration reform legislation will be debated and perhaps voted on by Congress in the near future.
In addition, with the recent election of a new Mexican President, Enrique Pena Nieto, the United States must renegotiate its relationship with its southern neighbor over the next year, rethinking how the two nations work together in approaching a number of major issues. Most importantly, it is likely the ongoing drug war in Mexico will become an increasingly important issue within this country as well.
Regardless of what happens in 2013, it is clear that the large, growing and increasingly prominent Latino demographic is here to stay when it comes to influencing how this country is to move forward in a globally connected 21st Century world. No longer relegated to a simple minority status, Latinos in the United States are destined to be national leaders.