After the protests, Latinos start to come together politically
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As the debate intensifies, challenges to the movement could come from those who say that illegal immigrants increase crime, overburden hospitals and schools, drive down salaries, and take jobs from US citizens. Several polls show that many want the current wave of immigration to slow and even stop. More than half of Latinos (54 percent) say they see an increase in discrimination as a result of the policy debate, the Pew survey says.Skip to next paragraph
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"If anything, we've seen a backlash," says Mr. Keeley of CIS. "It had the unintended effect because it really turned off a lot of Americans who were watching [the marches] on TV."
But the marches, spurred by a House bill that would make it a crime for 11 million illegal immigrants to live and work in the US, also seem to be causing a Hispanic reaction.
"I had always been uninterested in the government," says Lisandro Figueroa, a Salvadoran architect who entered the US illegally three years ago. "But now that there are things worth fighting for, I'm convinced, and I'd like to have the chance to vote. Aside from the marches, it's the vote that can make the difference," says Figueroa, who works at construction and cleaning jobs and pays his taxes.
It's marchers like Figueroa who have the potential to change things, says Pablo Alvarado, national coordinator of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, an immigrant-rights group based in Los Angeles. "The true leaders are the persons who fight to feed their kids, that march in the streets and register to vote because at the end, it's the immigrant worker who has to face the politics," he says.
Letona of Centro Presente says that after the House bill (now on hold), immigrants came together through Spanish-language media, e-mailng, and by telephone. "Technology has had a lot to do with this movement," she says. "Communities can keep in touch via the Internet and cellphones, and we're part of server lists and can check what's going on in the country."
"If you look at Hispanic voters ... they're the future battleground of American politics," Harvard's Mr. Patterson says. "The Democratic Party has not been able to get back the white vote that it lost in the 1960s, and Republicans can't get the African-American vote, so Latinos have the potential for power."
By the 2008 election, Latinos could make a difference, Patterson and members of both parties believe.
"Latinos will continue to have an increasingly important role, and you can't argue with the numbers," says Luis Miranda, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "We're not going to take a single vote for granted.... So we're going to reach out to Hispanics in every state through media, town hall meetings, and bilingual publications."
Danny Diaz, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, also says his party has strived to attract Hispanics. "Under this president, it has been a priority," Mr. Diaz says. "[Bush] had 40 percent of the Hispanic vote ... and when you look at the fact that the surgeon general and attorney general are Hispanics, they send messages that if you work hard this is the land of opportunity. "
Last month, thousands of Latinos marched in Chicago calling for a better treatment of illegal immigrants in the largest rally in the city since the March protests.
"It's unpredictable what will happen," says Mr. Alvarado, the former illegal immigrant who now fights for day-laborers' rights. "But I know that the children, the workers, and even the Americans who participated in the marches will be different."
"Everybody is part of this campaign, so you don't have to be a citizen," Paulo says after he finishes explaining how to register to Mr. Paiva. "I know what it's like – I've lived through this. If I become an important leader, I'll keep on helping – even if I get my citizenship," he says.