Friday, July 02, 2004

Licencias y Legalizacion para Todos

Latino voters may play a pivotal role in four of the most crucial swing states: New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida. After a slow start (Michael Finnegan, "Kerry's Low Profile May Cost Crucial Latino Votes," Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2004), John Kerry finally got around to addressing Latino voters only to immediately drop a bombshell on them -- in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo, no less: "Democrat John Kerry said he opposes state laws that give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, a position that puts him at odds with the Hispanic activists he is courting in the presidential race" (The Associated Press, "Kerry: No Licenses for Illegal Immigrants," USA Today, June 30, 2004).

That's very shortsighted. Spirited organizing drives for driver's licenses for immigrants, regardless of immigration status, have been among the few bright spots for immigrant communities in a tough anti-immigrant political climate of the post-9/11 United States. They have even won several concrete victories -- for instance, Maryland and New Mexico liberalized access to driver's licenses after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: "On Sept. 12, 2003, the Maryland attorney general issued a decision that a person’s inability to prove lawful presence is not a basis for denying a person a driver’s license" (National Immigration Law Center, "State Driver’s License Requirements," April 8, 2004); and on March 18, 2004, immigrants in New Mexico won the right to obtain a driver's license without proof of legal residency -- since then, New Mexico state officials say, "the percentage of uninsured drivers has been cut by a third" (Aurelio Rojas, "N.M. Steers in Different Direction on Licenses: Unlike California, It Offers Permits to Illegal Immigrants," The Sacramento Bee, May 23, 2004).

Had Gray Davis not twice vetoed legislation that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses (similar to Senate Bill 60, which Davis signed only when he faced the imminent recall), he could have run on the record of having improved public safety while defending immigrant rights, surviving or even possibly avoiding the recall election altogether. Latino support for Davis declined dramatically between 1998 and 2002: "At this point in the 1998 governor's race, 72% of Latino voters said they were backing Davis. He ultimately won 71% of the Latino vote, according to Los Angeles Times exit polls of voters. According to a Times poll published Tuesday, however, Davis is currently supported by 57% of likely Latino voters" (Matea Gold, "Fewer Latinos Back Davis This Time," Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2004). Davis cannot claim that he did not get the message from Latino communities: "The Latino legislative caucus refused to endorse Davis because of the veto. . . . [A] Spanish language radio station in Los Angeles collected pledges from 12,000 people saying they would not vote for Davis because of the veto" (Laura Kurtzman, "Nader Slams Davis, Promotes Green Party Candidate," Mercury News, October 9, 2002). In the end, "53 percent of Latinos voted for the recall" (Zachary Coile, "Traditionally Democratic Voters Jumped Ship: Support Lagged from Labor, Latinos, Women," San Francisco Chronicle, October 8, 2003).

In contrast to Davis, Peter Camejo has consistently stood up for immigrant rights, supporting legalization of undocumented workers and driver's licenses for all immigrants: "[Davis] promised for three years he would sign it [legislation allowing the undocumented to obtain driver's licenses], then he betrays the Latino community and doesn't sign it. And first, he watered it down tremendously, so it was not recognizable. I would have signed the original bill. I think people who are living here and paying taxes -- and all the powers that be know they're here and accept that they're here -- cannot be denied to have normal status" (Camejo for Governor, "Civil Rights"). More importantly, Camejo has walked the walk. E.g.:

(B. Marsh, "Santa Rosa March for Immigrant Workers (Photo Essay Part 2)",, August 2, 2002)
Can Camejo seize the moment and make defense of immigrant rights an integral part of the Nader/Camejo 2004 campaign on the national stage? Though Camejo is a vice presidential candidate, it is he, not Nader, who must take leadership. If Camejo succeeds in using the presidential campaign to raise consciousness about not only the occupation of Iraq but also immigrant workers' rights, serving to link Latino and Arab communities, the campaign has a chance of becoming a catalyst for a new anti-war movement rooted in the oppressed and exploited working-class communities' desire for their own liberation and empowerment, i.e. one that is qualitatively different from the existing one dominated by altruistic white peace activists and organizers.

¡Licencias y Legalizacion Para Todos!

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