Year Of The Immigrant

Although everyone is talking about the presidential election this year, I am much more excited about the role of immigrants in the politics of 2012. It’s not a year like 2009 when we waited anxiously for a new president and Congress to create a sensible solution for immigration reform. Those hopes are long gone. They have been replaced by new fears aroused by draconian laws that emerged from Alabama, Arizona and Georgia.

Read Demos' Report: Voter Registration for New Americans: New USCIS Guidance on Voter Registration at Naturalization Ceremonies 

Latino and Asian voters will be able to go to the polls in increased numbers because of two new developments. First, the 2010 Census confirmed that demographics had changed enough in 248 jurisdictions that they “must provide language assistance during elections for groups who are unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.” One-third of the country’s citizen-age voting population lives in those parts of the country mandated by Section 243 of the Voting Rights Act to provide ballots, signs and interpretation in languages as diverse as Spanish and Hindi.

Second, the United States Citizenship and Information Service issued revised guidelines for voter registration last month, in an effort to improve the ability of new citizens to register at naturalization ceremonies.
 
The third, and most crucial, development for immigrant civic engagement is the growing number of new American candidates on the ballot for school and library boards, state legislatures and Congress. The number of Asian-Americans running for Congress more than doubled in just two years, from 8 in 2010 to 19 in 2012, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies. These races include three in which Asian-Americans are running against each other for the Democratic nomination — in Illinois’ eighth, Washington’s first and Hawaii’s second districts. In these races, voters to whom policy positions may matter as much as ethnicity no longer have to choose one over another.