Civil Rights of Latinos
Policies regarding immigration, language, and voting are modern-day civil rights issues that affect Latinos living in the United States.
Identify the recent trends in voting among Latinos in the United States and the civil rights issues that affect them
- Since the mid-1960’s, Latinos have become the largest immigrant group to the United States.
- Immigration policy remains a highly controversial issue in U.S. politics, with proposals ranging from building a wall along the U.S./Mexican border to limit immigration, to granting legal status to all foreign-born Latinos currently working in the United States.
- Many Latinos living in the U.S. arguably face civil rights violations, such as policies that limit Latino voting and economic participation.
- redistricting: the process of drawing boundaries for United States electoral areas, often in response to population changes determined by the results of the decennial census
- Latino: A term used in the U.S. to describe people of Latin American descent or origin.
- Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: Immigration legislation that removed yearly, numerical quotas based on the immigrant’s country of origin and implemented a system of ranking potential immigrants based on skills and family relationships.
“Latino” is a term used primarily in the United States to designate people of Latin American heritage or descent. Often, the term is treated as a synonym for Hispanic, although the latter only includes persons of Spanish-speaking origin. Latino is generally used more broadly to include non-Spanish speaking persons of Latin American descent, such as Brazilians. The U.S. Census considers Latino persons to share an ethnic group, not a race. Therefore, on the census individuals of any race can indicate that they are Hispanic or Latino.
Civil Rights and Immigration
The United States has long been a nation with a large immigrant population, but immigration policies have varied throughout the country’s history. In the earliest years, the largest immigrant group to North America consisted of European men. Immigration (not including the arrival of African and Caribbean slaves) proceeded at a relatively low rate until the mid-19th century. By the mid-1800’s, poor economic conditions in some European nations and a surge in industrial opportunities in the U.S. contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of immigrants entering the U.S. The wave of immigration in the latter half of the 1800’s was dominated by the Irish and Germans, although other European ethnicities arrived in significant numbers. By the early 1900’s, vast numbers of immigrants were still arriving, but the demographics had changed. Increasingly large numbers of southern and eastern Europeans were arriving in the eastern United States, while many Chinese and Japanese immigrants were arriving on the West Coast. In response, the U.S. government passed immigration quota laws in the 1920’s which restricted the number of people who could enter the U.S. from any given country. In effect, the policy changes restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe, Asia, and Central and South America.
The immigration policies of the 1920’s stood until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act. By the 1960’s, immigration was seen as a civil rights issue. Critics of existing policy included President John F. Kennedy, who considered immigration quotas to be at odds with democratic principles. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It removed national-origin quotas from immigration law. Instead, potential immigrants would be ranked based on skills, education, and family relationships. The Hart-Cellar Act opened the borders to populations that had been largely excluded from entry to the U.S. in earlier years, thus shifting the demographics of the country. Prior to 1965 the majority of immigrants in the U.S. were of European descent, but in the subsequent decades Latinos came to make up a majority of new immigrants.
Since the Civil Rights Era legislation that made Latino immigration possible, debates about immigration law have remained controversial. In particular, immigration from Mexico has surged since the late-1980’s. People of Mexican origin are now the largest foreign-born group in the United States. While many Mexican and Latino immigrants enter the country legally, particularly through family reunification policies, a substantial number do not have legal-immigrant status — an estimated 700,000 new immigrants per year. Some politicians have sought legislation to curb the flow of immigration from Latin America, including a proposals for increased deportation, building a wall along the U.S./Mexican border, and harsher enforcement of existing laws. Many other politicians and voters instead seek to facilitate the acquisition of legal citizenship for current residents.
Contemporary immigration policy is widely considered to be a civil rights issue that disproportionately affects Latinos. Enforcement and labor policies often violate the rights that are afforded to U.S. citizens. For example, many Latino immigrants are employed in unregulated workplaces, where employers do not pay minimum wage and do not abide by health and safety regulations. Children of immigrants may be denied access to education or coerced into labor that violates child labor laws. Moreover, for fear of deportation or prosecution, immigrants without legal status do not have legal recourse when they are victims of crimes or exploitation. Current policy proposals aimed at reducing these rights violations include legislation to grant legal status to all children born in the U.S. as well as proposals for foreign worker programs that would grant legal status to foreign born laborers. These proposals are highly controversial among the U.S. electorate and politicians.
Because the majority of foreign-born Latinos in the United States speak Spanish as a primary language, and many second-generation continue to speak Spanish in their households, controversies surrounding language are sometimes considered to be civil rights issues affecting Latinos. In recent decades, politicians have repeatedly proposed provisions to make English the official language of the U.S. These proposals have never passed — the U.S. does not have an official language. But, if such propositions were to become law, it would make it substantially more difficult for Spanish-speaking Americans to vote, attend school, and participate in other civic rights and duties. In many cases, critiques of proposals to make English the country’s official language accuse bill sponsors of attempting to disenfranchise Latinos — that is, of trying to reduce their political and economic power.
Proposals to change voting laws in recent years have also been met by criticism that they would prevent American Latinos from participating in the country’s governance. In some states, redistricting, or the process of redrawing voting precinct boundaries, has divided voters to either segregate Latinos or prevent them from gaining a majority in historically white native-born American districts. Similarly, recent proposals to require more stringent identification at polling places is suspected of attempting to reduce Latino voter turnout because a disproportionate number of Latino citizens do not have drivers licenses or other forms of state-accepted ID.
Civil Rights of Asian Americans
Civil Rights controversies surrounding Asian Americans include early immigration restrictions and xenophobia during the Second World War.
Discuss the civil rights issues that affect Asian Americans
- By the late 1800s, Asian American immigrants, especially from China, comprised large portions of the labor force in some industries.
- Throughout the early to mid-20th century, a period of xenophobia referred to as ” Yellow Peril ” saw limitations on Asian immigration and civil rights violations inflicted on U.S. Asian residents.
- Since the 1960s, Asian Americans have seen large advances in educational attainment and professional success, leading some commentators to refer to the group as the model minority.
- national origins quota laws: Immigration laws restricting the number of people who may legally enter the U.S. from any given country.
- internment camp: A governmental euphemism for a concentration camp, especially a non-Nazi one from before or during WWII; a detention center; a relocation camp.
- Yellow Peril: A period of xenophobia in the early 1900s that resulted in laws restricting the immigration and naturalization of people of Asian origin.
According to U.S. Census data, Asian Americans comprise 4.8% of the U.S. population, with an additional 5.6% of the population having partial Asian ancestry. The Census defines Asian Americans as people who indicate their race as “Asian,” “Chinese,” “Filipino,” “Indian,” “Vietnamese,” “Korean,” “Japanese,” or “Other Asian. ” The group term Asian American has been in wide use since the 1960s, and was introduced as an alternative to the now antiquated and sometimes offensive term “Oriental. ”
Asian Americans are sometimes referred to as “the model minority” in the popular press. This label reflects the group’s educational and economic success in recent decades. As of 2008, Asian Americans have the highest educational attainment and median household income of any racial demographic in the United States. While the group’s nickname generally reflects positive trends, it can be seen as offensive or stereotypical when it is applied in a way that implies all Asian Americans are well-educated, wealthy, and demure.
Immigration and Civil Rights
Immigration policy has played a central role in legal Civil Rights issues affecting Asian Americans. People of Asian descent began immigrating to the United States in significant numbers in the late 1800s. As of 1868, U.S. policy encouraged Chinese immigration. Chinese men made up the majority of certain industrial labor pools, most notably the western railroad industry, by the end of the century. Chinese laborers were often subject to unregulated work conditions, which resulted in widespread health problems, work-related injury and death, and exploitation. Nonetheless, it was not until the end of the 19th century that Asian Americans began to face institutionalized barriers to immigration and citizenship.
In 1875, the Page Act expressly prohibited the entry of immigrants deemed “undesirable,” including Asian men seeking contract labor and Asian women who were suspected of engaging in prostitution. The Page Act was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended all Chinese immigration for ten years, and the Geary Act of 1892, which provided Chinese immigrants to carry resident papers and prevented them from full access to U.S. legal proceedings. By the 1920s, a nativist tendency in the U.S. had propelled the passage of national origins quota laws, which limited the number of immigration from any given country. These policies effectively curbed immigration for several decades.
A xenophobic stance known as the Yellow Peril is often associated with early 20th century attempts to limit Chinese immigration and to bar Chinese residents from gaining American citizenship. By the mid-20th century, however, the term became associated with xenophobia towards Japanese Americans. Spurred by Japan’s role in World War II, many Americans, including legislators, became hostile towards Japanese immigrants and people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. In what is now considered to be a major civil rights violation, thousands of Japanese Americans were held in internment camps during World War II. These camps were premised on the suspicion that Japanese Americans could be linked to Japanese war efforts, but in fact they held thousands of civilians without any legal grounds or evidence of criminal activity.
In 1965, at the tail end of the Civil Rights era, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This bill overturned laws setting immigration quotas, opening the borders to increasing immigration from Asia and Latin America. Asians began entering the U.S. in large numbers, often aided by legal provisions that facilitated the immigration of highly skilled individuals or individuals with family members in the United States. A demographic shift followed the passage of the act, and the Asian American population became increasingly well-educated and had growing access to material resources in the United States.
In the modern day, Asian Americans continue to comprise the second largest ethnic immigrant group, after Latinos. That said, Asian American immigrants have diverse ethnic backgrounds, with large immigrant populations arriving from China, Korea, and India, for example. There has been some controversy over illegal immigration from Asia, with some speculating that as much as 15% of the Asian American population is in the U.S. illegally. However, largely due to favorable stereotypes of Asian Americans, debates surrounding illegal immigration tend to focus on Latinos, who are more negatively stereotyped by native born Americans.
Civil Rights of Native Americans
Historical policies of American expansion have infringed upon the rights of Native Americans and have lead to long-term inequality.
Identify the modern civil rights issues that pertain to Native Americans in the United States
- 19th and 20th Century policies created a system of Indian reservations, where Native Americans were geographically confined, but had some degree of sovereignty.
- The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 extended legal protections against discrimination by the federal government to Native Americans under tribal governance.
- Since the 1970s, affirmative action policies have attempted to provide Native Americans with equal opportunity in housing, employment, and education.
- Indian reservation: An area of land managed by a Native American tribe under the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- Indian Civil Rights Act: A law that applies to the Indian tribes of the United States and makes many, but not all, of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights applicable within the tribes.
- affirmative action: A policy or program providing advantages for people of a minority group with the aim of creating a more racially equal society through preferential access to education, employment, health care, social welfare, etc.
Native Americans are people of indigenous American descent, including indigenous peoples within the boundaries of the present-day United States. Native Americans are comprised of numerous, distinct ethnic groups, many of which continue as intact cultural and political entities. According to US Census data, 1.37% of Americans identify themselves as Native American.
European Settlement and American Expansion
Prior to the 15th century, groups that were indigenous to the Americas lived in isolation from the rest of the world. Indigenous societies ranged widely in terms of geographic location, culture, and social structure, with distinct languages and governing systems. When Europeans colonized the Americas, massive numbers of Native Americans were killed through warfare and the spread of disease. Of those who survived, most were either forced off the land they inhabited or forced to convert to Christianity and work under Europeans. During the initial phases of American colonization, European policy generally forced Native Americans westward, where there was a low density of European settlement.
By the 1800s, however, the newly formed United States of America sought to expand its territory and strengthen its hold on the western portion of the continent. As settlers moved west, new conflicts with Native American populations ensued. In an attempt to confine Native Americans to limited territory, thus clearing the way for westward expansion, the U.S. government created a system of Indian reservations. Reservations were intended to reduce conflict between settlers and Indians without curbing American expansion, but they were controversial and largely unsuccessful from the start. On the one hand, settlers objected to large portions of land being given to indigenous populations, and on the other, Native Americans objected to having their movement restricted and their territory reduced. Moreover, Native Americans rejected the limited autonomy they were granted through the reservation system, as the reservations were administered by U.S. bureaucrats rather than tribal leaders.
Native Americans in the Modern United States
Today, there are still 310 Indian reservations in the U.S., but they remain controversial. Reservations have alcoholism, domestic abuse, sexual violence, poverty, and illiteracy rates that are among the highest in the country. Partly because of the reservation system, civil rights protections have often involved complex legal issues. Native Americans have allegedly been granted the right to self-determination, which has sometimes limited support on both sides for U.S. governmental protections.
Nonetheless, by 1968 the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act, which gave tribal members protections from both the U.S. Government and from rights infringements by tribal leaders. Soon after, affirmative action policies began being applied to Native Americans, in an attempt to provide equal opportunity in employment, housing, and education. Despite these efforts, Native Americans still tend to have lower socioeconomic status and greater exposure to crime and abuse than other American groups.
Civil Rights of People with Disabilities
Disabled Americans face limited access to public places and institutions that civil rights legislation seeks to address.
Describe the campaigns and successes of the disability rights movement.
- The Disability Rights Movement arose in the 1960s to create widespread institutional reform that would protect the civil rights of disabled persons in the United States.
- Disability is an umbrella term that includes impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions caused by a combination of physical, social, and psychological conditions.
- The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act mandated improved access to government and social spaces for disabled persons, and also strengthened protections against discrimination.
- disability: State of being disabled; deprivation or want of ability; absence of competent physical, intellectual, or moral power, means, fitness, and the like.
- disability rights movement: The movement to secure equal opportunities and equal rights for people with disabilities.
- Americans with Disabilities Act: A wide-ranging civil rights law that affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did for other groups.
Disability is an umbrella term that includes impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Disabilities may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these, and they may be present from birth or acquired later in a person’s lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, an impairment inhibits body function or structure; an activity limitation inhibits an individual’s ability to execute a task or action; and a participation restriction affects an individual’s ability to participate in life situations. Thus, disability is often complex, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and of the society in which he or she lives.
Disabled persons face unique social challenges that may limit their participation in civic life. Notable issues include:
- Accessibility and safety measures in transportation, architecture, and the physical environment
- Equal opportunity in housing, employment, and education
- Protection from abuse, neglect, and the violation of patients’ rights
To address these concerns, a disability rights movement has introduced a range of legislation and law suits.
The disability rights movement became organized in the 1960s, concurrent with the African-American civil rights movement and feminist movement. Prior to the 1960s, individual disability groups had advocated for social reform; schools for the deaf and blind were organized as early as 1817, and the American Federation of the Physically Handicapped was formed in 1940 to advocate on behalf of people with physical limitations. But, it was not until the 1960s that a diverse range of disability groups became unified in pursuit of large scale advocacy. In the 1960s, the movement included such successful initiatives as the Community Mental Health Act, which provided funding for research about developmental disorders, and the Architectural Barriers Act, which required all federally owned or leased buildings to be accessible to disabled people.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the disability rights act gained increasing visibility and a number of policy successes, including increased accessibility of public places and increased resources for people with developmental disabilities. Perhaps the most sweeping success, however, came in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act provided comprehensive civil rights protections modeled after the Civil Rights Act. It mandated that local, state, and federal governments and programs be accessible to people with disabilities, that employers with more than 15 employees make “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities and not discriminate against otherwise qualified workers on the basis of disability, and that public spaces such as restaurants and stores make “reasonable modifications” to ensure accessibility. The act also mandated the accessibility of public transportation, communication, and other publicly provided services.
Civil Rights of the Elderly
The elderly, or senior citizens, are vulnerable to civil rights abuses due to a propensity for sickness, disability, and poverty.
Discuss the civil rights issues that affect the elderly in the United States
- Senior citizens are those Americans who are older than the retirement age and who are therefore eligible for state benefits.
- American population shifts have caused the elderly population to expand significantly in recent decades, and it is expected to grow until 2020.
- The Older Americans Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are two pieces of civil rights legislation intended to protect the elderly population.
- retirement age: The age after which a person is eligible for senior citizen benefits, currently 65 in the United States.
- Older Americans Act: The first federal level initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults.
- senior citizen: An old person, generally, a senior citizen is considered to be over 60 years of age or over the retirement age.
The elderly, sometimes referred to as senior citizens in the United States, are a demographic group usually defined by being retired or over the retirement age (which is dependent on life expectancy changes). Due to demographic shifts, including increased life expectancy and high birth rates in the post-World War II era, the United States population has grown older in recent years. As of 1990, only 4% of Americans were over 65; by 2000, 12% were; and demographers estimate that by 2020, 17% will be in that age group.
Civil Rights Issues Affecting the Elderly
Because of a propensity for illness, disability, and lack of employment, the elderly are faced with unique civil rights challenges. Government policies throughout the twentieth century were aimed at meeting the unique needs of elderly Americans. For example, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Social Security Act funded medical care for aging Americans. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) into law. This legislation specifically sought to provide equal opportunity for the enjoyment of adequate income in retirement, adequate health care, housing, long-term care, recreation, community services, freedom and self-determination, and protection against abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The OAA provides funding to states for the provision of services on the basis of the percentage of the population over the age of 60. Recipients of the OAA benefits are disproportionately poor, female, rural, and African American, as these elderly populations are particularly vulnerable.
Additionally, in 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. This law forbids employment discrimination against anyone who is at least 40 years old in the United States; the denial of benefits based on age; mandatory retirement; and prohibits statements of age preferences in job notices or advertisements. The law attempts to address company policies that force elderly employees out of work once they become eligible for government retirement benefits or due to prejudice against the elderly.
LGBTQ Civil Rights
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people have attained many civil protections, but are still subject to discrimination.
Identify the historical origins and issues relevant for the LGBTQ rights movement
- Since roughly the 1950s, the LGBTQ rights movement has worked to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Many policies have changed as a result of the LGBTQ rights movement, such as the legalization of same-sex marriages or civil unions in many states and the overturning of a ban on LGBTQ military service members.
- Despite many policy changes, LGBTQ people are not protected against discrimination by any federal laws, and a powerful conservative movement opposes LGBTQ rights.
- “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.
- LGBTQ rights movement: Activist efforts of individuals and organizations to improve the social and legal standing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people.
- Stonewall Riots: Riots against a police raid that took place on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, which propelled LGBTQ activism and visibility.
- “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT): A policy in effect between 1991 and 2011 prohibiting military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.
The LGBTQ rights movement refers to the efforts of individuals and organizations to improve the social and legal standing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) people. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 are often thought to mark the starting point of a worldwide LGBTQ rights movement. In fact, some gay and lesbian organizations were established earlier than 1969 and advocated for the improved social standing of LGBTQ people. Still, it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that LGBTQ advocates organized groups and demonstrations to improve the legal status of LGBTQ people.
Despite the long history of non-heterosexual sexual practices and non-conforming gender roles, the concept of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) rights did not become widely used until the second half of the twentieth century. In the early twentieth century in the United States, men and women engaged in homosexual practices and relationships but did not identify as “gay” or “lesbian. ” In New York City in the 1920s, for example, men met in particular social clubs and bars to find male sexual partners. The majority of these men were married and did not consider themselves to be homosexual. While they engaged in homosexual conduct, they generally did not advocate for the improved standing of homosexuals in society. Likewise, throughout the early 1900s, well-educated, unmarried women sometimes lived with long- term female partners. While these relationships were often intimate and resembled marriage, and were sometimes colloquially referred to as “Boston marriages,” the women in these partnerships were more often advocates for women’s rights than for homosexual rights and did not identify as lesbians. The origin of the term “Boston marriages” refer to two single women living together, independent of men. The term was originally coined in Henry James’ novel The Bostonians, which told the tale of an intimate companionship between two wealthy Boston women.
The Stonewall Riots
By the 1950s “homophile organizations” comprised of self-identified homosexual men and women arose. Like earlier social clubs and bars, these homophile club meetings served as a place to meet romantic and sexual partners. But, unlike earlier meeting places, homophile clubs explicitly advocated for the improved social status of homosexual people. While homophile organizations made early explicit attempts to improve LGBTQ peoples’ status, it was not until The Stonewall Riots of 1969 that large numbers of LGBTQ advocates united to demand legal and social rights. Throughout the 1950s-60s LGBTQ people gathered in a small number of bars that welcomed them as customers. Police forces often kept track of which bars were frequented by homosexuals. Since homosexuality was still illegal under anti-sodomy laws, and LGBTQ people had no protections against discrimination, police raids on known gay bars were common.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official United States policy on gays serving in the military from December 21, 1993, to September 20, 2011. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.
The policy was introduced as a compromise measure in 1993 by President Bill Clinton who campaigned in 1992 on the promise to allow all citizens to serve in the military regardless of sexual orientation. In accordance with the December 21, 1993, Department of Defense Directive, it was legal policy that homosexuality was incompatible with military service and that persons who engaged in homosexual acts or stated that they are homosexual or bisexual were to be discharged. he “Don’t Ask” provision mandated that military or appointed officials will not ask about or require members to reveal their sexual orientation. The “Don’t Tell” stated that a member may be discharged for claiming to be a homosexual or bisexual or making a statement indicating a tendency towards or intent to engage in homosexual activities.
A congressional bill to repeal DADT was enacted in December 2010, specifying that the policy would remain in place until the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified that repeal would not harm military readiness, followed by a 60-day waiting period. A July 6, 2011, ruling from a federal appeals court barred further enforcement of the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members. President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen sent that certification to Congress on July 22, 2011, which set the end of DADT for September 20, 2011.
Successes and Challenges
Since the late-1960s, LGBTQ activists have achieved many successes in the struggle to secure civil rights for LGBTQ people. Notably, in the past decade many states have legalized same-sex marriages and civil unions, the federal government overturned a ban on open LGBTQ military service members known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), and most states have passed anti-discrimination laws that prevent discrimination in housing, employment, and education on the basis of sexual orientation. Although gay marriage is legal nationally, and no federal law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Civil Rights of Immigrants
Immigrants are vulnerable to civil rights violations, often due to low socioeconomic status, language barriers, or xenophobia.
Discuss the history of immigration to the United States
- In the early history of the United States, the largest numbers of immigrants were comprised of Europeans seeking economic opportunity and Africans who were forcibly brought to the U.S. as slaves.
- Throughout much of the 20th century, immigration to the U.S. was heavily restricted, but the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lifted prior quotas and allowed many new immigrants into the country.
- The largest immigrant populations in the U.S. today are Latinos and Asian-Americans, though the former group is the subject of significantly more political controversy.
- The Dream Act: Proposed legislation that would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. This proposed legislation has been introduced at least 5 times in Congress since 2001, but has failed to pass both houses.
- Immigration and Nationality Act: Law that abolished country of origin quotas on immigration.
- immigration: Coming into a non-native country for the purpose of permanent residence.
Immigration is the movement of people from one country to a country in which they are not native. In the United States, immigration has a long and complex history. It has long been a source of population growth as well as cultural, social, and political change.
In the first two centuries of the United States’ history, new immigrants were primarily north European, African, and Caribbean. Europeans immigrated primarily for economic opportunity, though some groups moved in pursuit of religious freedom or political asylum. Virtually all immigration from Africa and the Caribbean was the result of slavery — the movement of Africans and Caribbean Islanders from their native countries was entirely involuntary.
By the mid-1800s, increasing numbers of southern and eastern Europeans were immigrating to the United States. Many new groups were met with xenophobia. For example, in the second half of the 1800s, the Irish population in the U.S. exploded, and anti-Irish sentiment resulted in a plethora of discriminatory practices in housing, employment, and governance.
For much of the twentieth century, immigration was severely restricted by legislation with an isolationist philosophy. It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that significant numbers of immigrants were once again allowed to enter the U.S. The Immigration and Nationality Act reversed laws that limited the number of immigrants who could enter from any given country, and instead put in place policies that encouraged the immigration of skilled workers and family members of U.S. citizens.
At present, the two largest immigrant groups in the United States are Latinos and Asian-Americans. While there is general political debate surrounding immigration, the bulk focuses on Latinos. This trend is largely due to the high socio-economic status of Asian immigrants — compared to other groups, Asian immigrants tend to be well-educated, and second-generation Asian-Americans immigrants tend to have high incomes and educational attainment. Latino immigrants, on the other hand, comprise a poorer, less-educated population. Consequently, they are more vulnerable to civil rights violations and lack of legal protection.
All immigrants are affected by certain civil rights issues, though Latinos may be more vulnerable than other groups. Central issues include the low enforcement of labor laws with regards to immigrant workers who are subject to dangerous or exploitative conditions; lack of due process in the courts for residents who entered the country illegally; debates about whether languages other than English should be taught in public schools and used in government documents; and debates about whether children who entered the country illegally can be prosecuted and deported. The Dream Act is an example of recently proposed legislation that would allow children born to parents who are illegally in the U.S. to attend public universities and become citizens.Although the Dream Act has not passed as federal legislation, a California version was passed in 2011. The California DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a package of California state laws that allow children who were brought into the US under the age of 16 without proper visas/immigration documentation who have attended school on a regular basis and otherwise meet in-state tuition and GPA requirements to apply for student financial aid benefits.
While illegal immigration is the most controversial issue in American politics, immigrants who enter the country legally also face civil rights challenges. Discrimination in housing, employment, and education is legally prohibited, but continues to impact many immigrants, especially those who may be vulnerable due to a language barrier or their economic status.