As the Presidential race draws near, Democratic candidates look to gather support from a growing pool of voters, the Hispanic population. The potential population of Hispanic voters will be at an estimated 14 million by the 2008 election, therefore assisting any presidential hopeful in his or her race to the White House. To cater towards the growing Hispanic population, the Democratic debate in Florida was aired on Univision, the most popular Spanish channel in the United States. One of the key issues discussed at the debate was the immigration in the United States, and appropriately so. Immigration is a very personal issue to immigrants with family remaining across the borders, and one presidential candidate advocating for the rights of immigrants is Governor Bill Richardson (his photo on the right). Of Latino descent, his entrance into the presidential race demonstrates the reshaping of the “American Dream”, once an inherent right for Western European immigrants and now encompassing even immigrants from behind the borders.
Although history often romanticizes the American dream as being a possibility for all immigrants, reality falls far from this idea. Various laws have been enacted to deny “undesirable” immigrants citizenship or entry into the United States. One blatant example of this was in 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion act was passed; this was the first law passed in the United States that targeted a specific ethnic group. The reasoning behind the act was to protect the rights and jobs of white immigrants, since the Chinese were viewed as competition. This history echoes the explanations for tightening American borders today. The politicians, predominantly Republican, advocating for more stringent immigration laws claim that illegal immigrants are impacting the economy by working for lower wages, but should the illegal immigrants be entirely faulted? Business owners want to maximize profit while exploiting illegal immigrants who have few to no rights or protections. In fact, illegal immigrants have become an integral part of some sectors of the economy. While illegal immigrants hope to work hard to provide for a better life, for themselves and their families, laws are being created to deny them opportunities to get ahead. As the Hispanic population grows to a total of 37.5 million according to the United States Census Bureau, their presence is becoming an undeniable political force, able to shape the fate of immigration.
As a result of the large influx of immigrants from across the border, the legislative branch has taken action. Instead of accommodation, the reaction to the immigration issue has been the issuance of H.R. 4437, a law that established harsher penalties for illegal immigrants and the people that assisted them. Accompanying this law was S.2611, which would have provided 8.5 million illegal immigrants a way to achieve citizenship status, but failed to pass into law. H.R. 443 ignited national protest, especially in California, where the Hispanic and immigrant population is one of the highest. The picture to the left shows the protests' magnitude. The powerful expression of antagonism towards the H.R. 4437 showed that minority groups do have a voice, and that they can make a change in the face of oppressive laws. The fact that so many people, even non-immigrants, flooded the streets to contest H.R. 4437 demonstrates the inherent belief that the American dream is more inclusive than exclusive. Complimentary to this is a quote from Governor Richardson’s speech in Florida, that he “object(s) to the dehumanizing of people that want to be part of the American dream.”
Currently, there are negotiations in Congress between republicans and democrats concerning the immigration issue. Immigration remains one of the top issues in the Presidential debates, forcing political leaders to deal with the growing Hispanic population and letting their opinions be heard. Understandably, the government cannot grant all illegal immigrants citizenship, or else becoming a naturalized citizen would be an otherwise hollow term. Also, the government would be overburdened with the enormous influx of people, however the government does have room to grant immigrants who have been in the United States long enough, some form of partial citizenship. Although President Bush firmly supports the reinforcement of a barrier between Mexico and the United States as seen through the wall in the image below, Congress continues to push forward with less hard line proposals to mitigate the immigration issue. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform act is on the Senate’s agenda, and offers alternatives to illegal immigrants, like temporary visas and special status. Part of this "comprehensive immigration reform" is the bill S. 1639, which has yet to be voted on in the Senate. After H.R. 4437, there have been multiple efforts to compromise on immigration with the realization that illegal immigrants will not just disappear, so therefore there needs to be some sort of middle ground when dealing with immigration. Through laws, illegal immigrants may get the chance to dream the American dream by receiving certain statuses, along with rights and responsibilities. To the right is an image of the wall along the American-Mexican border
America is entering a new era, with politics diversifying and the relatively homogeneous political arena being overthrown by a more heterogeneous pool of people. Perhaps what is occurring is what Crevecouer referred to in the 18th century as “the melting pot,” or a diverse group of people coexisting to be labeled “American.” Complimentary to Crevecouer’s melting pot is the American dream, and as the melting pot grows, the definition of the American dream will also have to expand to include more ethnic groups. There is still progress to be made, but Governor Richardson’s initiative and the recent legislative changes are small steps towards the empowerment of minorities.