The Game Change
6. It revitalizes the union movement. Latino immigrants have already helped turn Los Angeles, Las Vegas and other cities into union towns. They've often done so against great odds and with impressive courage, since many undocumented union workers are not fully covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Imagine what they could do if they were protected by labor law. Despite all the Republican talk about Latinos being natural conservatives, committed to family, religion and hard work, most reject the extreme economic individualism that is the bedrock of the GOP. They come from countries where democracy means social democracy, including workers' rights, welfare and economic justice.
7. It dilutes the power of Florida Cubans. Since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Cuban exiles have had a toxic effect on US domestic and foreign policy. They have repeatedly helped deliver Florida's large number of electoral votes to Republicans and in 2000 served as the shock troops for the infamous "Brooks Brothers Riot," which shut down Dade County's recount of its disputed presidential ballot, a critical event that helped hand the election to Bush. Beyond forcing Washington to keep up its pointless embargo of Cuba—which handicaps US diplomacy in the rest of Latin America—they have backed a hardline foreign policy, supporting Ronald Reagan's patronage of death squads in Central America and last year's coup in Honduras. Their power is on the wane; in 2008 other Florida Latinos helped deliver the state to Obama, overriding the Miami Cuban-American vote, which went for McCain. But candidate Obama still felt compelled to genuflect before them, traveling to Miami to criticize Bush from the right for losing Latin America to leftist "demagogues." Legislating a way to citizenship for Latino immigrants would dampen Florida Cubans' ability to influence foreign policy, as well as change the terms of the debate: even Cuban-Americans are in favor of immigration reform.
8. It helps America's cities. I lived in Durham, North Carolina, for a few years, and for all the romance of Southern porch culture, it was mostly Latinos, nearly all of them undocumented laborers from Mexico and Central America, who were outside, facing the street, talking, listening to music, raising families. The city's more settled residents were inside with their air-conditioners and TVs. Throughout the United States, Latinos are re-energizing neighborhoods and populating downtowns, opening stores and pumping money into established small businesses. Not too long ago cities were rearguards of a progressive ethos in retreat. Today, with the help of Latinos, one of the fastest growing urban demographics, they are again vital hubs of social democracy. Google the words "Latinos," "cities" and "revitalize" and you will be led to any number of stories about how stressed city centers in Detroit, Dallas, Memphis, Newark and the Hudson Valley are being rescued by Latinos. No wonder the right hates them.
9. It is the morally right thing to do. And as a result, it is strategically smart. Progressives need not just wedge issues but driving righteousness, and the heart-rending plight of more than 10 million vulnerable residents who are denied basic human rights and hunted by random raids, their families split apart, is as morally urgent an issue as the civil rights movement was in its heyday. Considering the role Latinos would play in burying, once and for all, the Southern strategy, the issue needs to be understood as essential in finally achieving the promise of the original civil rights movement. With one eye on November's midterm elections and another on polls showing support for Arizona's SB 1070, many Democrats are reverting to hedging. It's a "toxic subject," says Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. For all the reasons above—plus the fact that many Latinos might just wash their hands of the Democrats if betrayed—that temerity itself is toxic. And considering Democrats' perpetual minority status in Tennessee, if I were a Democrat there, I'd want as liberalized an immigration policy as possible.