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News : Counterpoint 

Build a fence, dig a hole

Who’s working harder to suppress the immigrant vote? Anti-Voting Rights Act Republicans or the Minutemen?

God love the Minutemen. Those sumbitches have put their rebar where their mouth is. Last week, they began building a wall between us and Mexico, starting in Arizona. I suspect that someone failed to employ the “measure twice, cut once” rule (the Texas border alone is four times longer than Arizona’s), but I’m sure that won’t deter them — these guys are doing it in the summertime, like real men (I understand that Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum is making special ice-cream quiches for air-drop delivery). If I were an ad honcho, I’d shoot a Bud Light commercial while the Minutemen are on the job — or maybe a Dodge Ram photo montage.

Oh, wait. Bud Light is the unofficial official beer of Mexican-American San Antonio; and we love our trucks, too. But I’m sure someone can profit from all those hunky, hat-wearin’ Americans sweatin’ for their country in the Southern sun.

On the other hand, if I were a Mexican day-laborer, I’d pull up a lawn chair, crack a cold Modelo, and enjoy the sight of the self-appointed national foremen shoveling dirt.

In the attendant grandstanding, the Minutemen announced that they were taking matters into their own hands because Washington has failed to act. Not so. The nation’s capital is developing a demand-side-economics approach to the problem. If we can make the country unattractive enough to foreigners — by removing some of the trappings of American democracy, for instance — the thinking goes (I assume; if you have an alternate theory that explains the actions of those whackjobs in Congress, let me know), the number of people willing to risk death by sealed trailer or sociopath to get here will dwindle.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act, for instance, has long telegraphed the message that we care about minority enfranchisement — and, for that matter, that we want citizens to vote, period. So Republicans in Congress have decided to delay renewing the act’s provisions until the Democrats give up on some key points, such as bilingual ballots.

At first blush this might look like run-of-the-mill xenophobia, but in light of the recent immigration-reform protests (one slogan of which was, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote”), we might want to file the foot-dragging under “Steal the Vote ’08.”

In 2001, the Center for Immigration Studies reported that Democrats have a wide lead over Republicans among Latinos who identify with a party. “The gap is even wider among immigrant Latinos who have not yet become citizens,” CIS noted. “As many of these non-citizens naturalize, the political affiliation of Latinos is likely to shift still further toward the Democratic party.”

More recently, Randy Shaw of San Francisco’s wrote, “The impact of increased Latino voting can be seen in California, where Latino voting has shifted state politics to the left over the past decade. Latino political power has grown dramatically in California even though 50 percent of eligible Latino voters still do not vote.”

Shaw was reviewing a book by Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Fluid Borders: Latino Power, Identity, and Politics in Los Angeles, that reports her surprising finding that the blue-collar immigrant communities of East L.A. were more likely to vote and be politically active than their middle-class Latino counterparts in Montebello. The immigrant communities were more politicized in general, in part due to labor issues, and from this Shaw extrapolates that 2006’s immigration battles are more likely to mobilize Latino voters than not.

Whatever the motivations of Republicans on the Hill who want English-only ballots (and who secretly or openly support groups like the Minutemen), the move could backfire. The Voting Rights Act has strong public support, and whether it is renewed whole or piecemeal, ESL voters may yet find a way to go to the polls and unseat those leaders who tried to disfranchise them.

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