Immigrant Latinos in the US are facing a tough and worrying future.
There is a rising tide of hostility along the US-Mexico border. Visa and immigration policies are breaking up families, and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is increasingly raiding businesses and manufacturing plants to detain immigrants.
This latest shift represents the increasing criminalisation of immigration. It is a backward step in Latino immigrants’ battle to win legitimacy and come “out of the shadows”.
Government policies such as Operation Streamline bring low-level criminal charges against virtually all migrants caught crossing parts of the border.
A Pew Research Centre report has said that a sharp rise in Latino prisoners mean they are now the largest ethnic population in federal prisons.
The study reveals that nearly half of the Latino offenders, about 48 percent, were convicted of “immigration crimes”.
Many of the Latinos convicted were sentenced in courts from one of the four states that border Mexico.
There has been another major disappointment for the Latino community with the collapse of government talks to overhaul the US’s immigration policy.
Republicans voted down a plan in June 2007 that would have included a “guest worker programme” and a way for workers with “clean” records to gain US citizenship.
Since then any significant progress has stalled. President Barack Obama is unlikely to start working on immigration policies while he faces major issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the failing economy.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be for the 11 million people living illegally in the US – 57 percent of them from Mexico.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants struck and took to the streets across the US in May 2006 to fight for their rights.
The strike had the slogan, “A day without immigrants”, and it showed the political clout of the Latino population.
George Bush said that his biggest regret when he left office was his failure to pass a comprehensive plan to effectively deal with illegal people working and living in the US.
In 2003, Bush set out to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, which had not been changed since the mid-1980s.
His proposal focused on creating a programme that would allow immigrants to legally enter the country for a temporary period of three years to take jobs that employers say would otherwise go unfilled.
Another proposed major step forward for immigrants was the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act, which was not endorsed by Bush.
This would have allowed undocumented young immigrants to get financial aid and scholarships for college. They would also have legal status while they were at college. But the Senate narrowly voted this down.
Bush’s proposal for immigration reform went before the House of Representatives in 2005.
But the “war on terror”, and growing mistrust of foreigners had changed the situation.
The Republican majority rejected the reform bill in December of that year. They instead called for the deportation of all illegal immigrants, as well as insisting on a making it a felony for anyone to give assistance, including medical aid, to illegal immigrants.
It was this turn of events that prompted Latino organisations and labour groups to stage the large demonstrations.
When the Democrats gained a slight majority in the house in 2007 the issue was revisited.
Senators took up the call for the guest worker programme and to find a way for illegal immigrants to gain legalised status. This was once again defeated by the right.
This has left the Latino community with little possibility of a fair and just immigration reform plan that would provide them with the means to take care of their families.
Latinos are left to deal with the effects of a country battling deep recession, the Minutemen vigilantes and the ICE raids.
Jessica Chandler is a US journalist based in Britain. She can be contacted at [email protected]