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Guest Voz: Anti-immigrant legislation underscores real fear of conservatives — change in nation’s identity politics

LatinaLista — As ubiquitous as the introduction of anti-immigrant legislation has been in state legislatures across the country, there are now finally signs that push-back against these overtly punitive bills is beginning to make a difference.

We saw that yesterday in Arizona, the cradle of anti-immigrant legislation, with the defeat of five anti-immigrant bills of which included ending birthright citizenship and barring DREAM Act students from attending state universities. It’s also been seen in Kansas, Idaho and seven other state legislatures that are finally realizing that enforcement-only policies are not the way to solve the issue of illegal immigration.

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Yet, there remain states that still don’t understand. Georgia is one of them. Instead of taking its cue from the latest legislative happenings in Arizona, Georgia approved a bill that mirrors Arizona’s infamous SB1070.

Kathrin Ivanovic, a community organizer in Georgia, shares with Latina Lista readers what she believes lies behind the spate of anti-immigrant fervor found in state legislatures these days and what the greater Georgia community plans to do to show their elected state officials that Georgia has no desire to be like Arizona.

The ever-volatile debate around immigration reform is continuing to be shaped by an emerging political landscape fueled by the growth of particular political constituencies, especially immigrant communities.

The recently released 2010 census numbers underscores the way in which the future of politics in America is tied to these significant shifts in ethnic demographics and how they influence the role of identity politics.

In “U.S. Hispanic Population Is Growing, but This Isn’t Your Abuela’s Latino Community” Hernan Lopez points out that “According to these latest Census estimates, Latinos now make up 18% (50 million people) of the nation’s population. To put that into perspective, the U.S. Hispanic population is more numerous than the entire population of Canada.” Even more telling, however, “Latinos and other minorities were responsible for an astonishing 85% of U.S. population growth in the past 10 years.”

Lopez argues that, as Latinos, “Our mindset is no longer defined by language preference, age or acculturation level. It is guided by an evolved set of shared values and needs. They are bilingual, bicultural and increasingly influential within their multi-generational households.”

Both sides of the aisle must recognize the increasing difficulty to build a 21st century political majority without understanding and speaking to the needs, values and concerns of this fast-growing electorate, that Latinos have become one of the most contested swing voting blocs in American politics.

Yet, assuming that Latinos are a monolith, that shared heritages, values and beliefs translate to one, homogenous voting block, will lead to dire political consequences.

The issue of immigration and much needed reform of a broken system illustrates that identity politics takes place at the site where categories intersect, thereby letting us better acknowledge and ground the differences among us and negotiate the means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group politics.

The push-back from conservative, even nativist elements, can be felt throughout the country, as one state after the other introduces anti-immigrant legislation that threatens to destroy the cultural and economic fabric of this nation.

While the debate is often couched in terms of national security, the dehumanizing political discourse and undercurrent that actually emerges is that of the greater identity politics of a nation.

The debate of documented status thereby intends to force arbitrary and often-racialized demarcations around who has a legitimate right to participate in public and private spheres of our society.

The questions of who is and what does an American look like is often influenced by what some believe it does not, thereby reinforcing a highly racial iconography of immigration as synonymous with the undocumented, and often more concretely as the Latino. Again, we are speaking in monoliths.

What proponents of anti-immigrant legislation fail to recognize is that while Latinos and other immigrant communities are not homogenous in their beliefs, values, needs and desires, they…we, are here.

Georgia, Oklahoma, Utah, Illinois, Arizona…these places are our home. We are raising families here, building roots here, strengthening communities here, worship with our communities of faith here, contributing to the wider community in meaningful ways here.

This country is our home.

While we aren’t a monolith, the wave of attacks on our communities has revealed our depths of indignation, our willingness to come out of the shadows, and our desire to be seen and heard.

The New York Times recently reported that opposition to anti-immigrant measures has slowed the progression of these measures in many state legislatures. Yet conservatives in the Georgia Assembly have been able to swiftly move anti-immigrant legislation through both chambers.

On Monday, March 14, 2011, Georgia moved one step closer in passing anti-immigrant legislation that closely mirrors that of Arizona’s highly controversial SB1070. The Georgia Senate voted 34 to 21 in favor of a bill that would among other things, empower local and state law enforcement officials to inquire about an individual’s documented states based on personal discretion, require employers to enroll in the severely flawed e-Verify system, and allow private citizens to sue public officials who weren’t in full compliance with all provisions.

In response, a broad coalition of community organizations representing the many immigrant communities that call Georgia their home, along with representatives from every major Georgia industry, from agriculture, to tourism, as well as union representation is preparing for a massive, state-wide mobilization at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, March 24.

Faith leaders will open the rally with an inter-faith expression of solidarity and unity followed with a celebration of the beauty of Georgia’s diverse communities.

Kathrin is radical, queer Latina community organizer, writer, consultant, and new media strategist. She is the founder of KI Consulting where she develops resource development and social media strategies for progressive nonprofits in the United States and Latin America. She also is the founder of The Diversity Projekt, where she explores life at the intersection of race, gender and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter.

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