In the 2012 presidential elections in the United States, Hispanics could play a larger role than ever in determining who will occupy the White House. They are the fastest growing voting group in the nation. Many Latinos are watching closely how the presidential candidates view the issue of immigration in the U.S. In California, legislators recently passed a law providing financial aid for students who are illegal immigrants.
“I was born in Mexico, Jalisco. I came to the U.S. at the age of two,” said Nancy Meza, whose story is not uncommon. Her mother brought her to the U.S. to get an education.
“Me and my mom came undocumented through the desert. I consider myself an American and all I’m missing is a piece of paper,” she said.
Meza just graduated from the university and is considering either graduate or law school. Her plans just got a little easier a few months ago, when California passed the Dream Act, a law that makes students who are not in the U.S. legally eligible for financial aid at public universities within the state.
“Definitely the passage of the California Dream act opens up those doors for us to be able to compete. That’s what we’ve always wanted,” Meza said.
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., of which two million are youth and students says Kent Wong, director of the University of California Los Angeles Labor Center. Only three states in the U.S. allow illegal immigrants to qualify for financial aid in state universities.
“These children broke no laws. They’ve done everything our society have asked them to do. They worked hard. They’ve studied hard. They’ve stayed in school. They’re entering college. and so we’re punishing them for something they have absolutely no control,” Wong said.
A Federal Dream Act failed in the Senate last year. It would have created a pathway to citizenship for qualifying illegal immigrants. Again, Kent Wong:
“The reality is that because the majority are from Latin America and Asia there is a strong reaction from older conservative white members of Congress who fear the integration of students of color within our society,” Wong said.
But Republican strategist, Luis Alvarado says the views of many Democrats and Republicans are not that different. He says many Republicans and Latinos prefer immigration reform to be on the national level because states such as California cannot afford to have their own immigration policy.
“All you need to do is go to LA county hospitals emergency room and find out who is actually utilizing those services there it’s a reality that there is a burden placed upon society because this issue has not been resolved. A solution is very complex; the reality is we’re not going to have a solution until we actually find out who the next president of the United States is,” Alvarado said.
Even among the Republican candidates, who want to run against President Obama in 2012, there are differences of opinion. Some say the solution is to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border while others want to find a way to give legal status to the illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S. Luis Alvarado says Republicans and Democrats need to work together and not delay any longer in finding a solution for immigration.