Young Latinos might not all agree on the best immigration policy,
but many feel a visceral connection to the issue based on their
own experiences and cultural identities.
is the No. 1 theme for all Hispanics in the United States, since
every family in the United States has friends or relatives who
don't have their documents in order," said Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush,
editor of El Diario La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language newspaper
in the country and the largest in New York City.
The question of immigration status has dogged Laura Arrieta,
18, throughout most of her life. Texas law enforcement officials
detained Arrieta, born in Honduras, and her mother in 1991 after
they entered the country without documentation.
After Arrieta and her mother made bail, they flew to Newark,
N.J., where Arrieta's father served as a church deacon. His position
allowed Arrieta to receive temporary resident status.
Arrieta ultimately gained permanent status in 2000, and in 2005,
she joined the New Jersey Army National Guard.
"I am Honduran in blood, but I feel like this is my country,"
she said. "That's part of the reason why I joined. This is
my country and I would do anything for it."
But her military standing did not prevent ICE agents from arresting
her husband, an undocumented immigrant from Costa Rica, in early
"It was very scary," she said, adding that her husband
has since been released and is in the process of applying for
a visa. "I was an immigrant myself, but the fear they have
now is very different."
Like many Latinos, Arrieta said she struggles to understand arguments
against granting legal status to undocumented immigrants because
of the country's history of immigration.
The politics of immigration
Some young adult Latinos, particularly those born in the United
States, do support stricter immigration laws. A Pew Hispanic Center
survey taken after the mass pro-immigration rallies in April 2006
showed 5 percent of Latinos -- and 8 percent of native-born Latinos
-- said undocumented immigrants should be prohibited from staying
and becoming citizens.
"I believe that every individual that wants to come to America
has to do that the proper way," said Jorge Gonzales, a 19
year old from California. "That means having the papers instead
of coming illegally."
Gonzales, whose grandparents emigrated from Mexico, said people
often assume he feels a certain way because of his cultural background.
"Just because I am a Latino and I disagree with immigration,
people see me as whitewashed," he said. "I'm totally
not whitewashed and it's frustrating."
Gonzales' Republican political affiliation also sets him apart.
From 2004 to 2006, according to Pew Hispanic Center research,
Democrats enjoyed an 11-point bump -- from nearly 60 percent to
roughly 70 percent -- in support from eligible Latino voters.
Analysts credited opposition to Republican stances on immigration,
as well as the Iraq war, for the defection.
"I think Latinos might identify with Democrats as being empathetic
to their cause," said Darlene Rodriguez, former director
of the University of Georgia affiliated Latino Youth Leadership
Program. "But they might not fully embrace one party or the
other, I don't think the Democrats should take that support for
She pointed to numbers from the National Association of Latino
Appointed and Elected Officials and Voto Latino, a voter-registration
group geared toward young Latinos, showing 50,000 Latinos in the
United States -- 87 percent of whom are eligible to vote -- turn
18 each month.
Campaign Web sites translated into Spanish prove candidates are
considering Latino voters, said Rodriguez. All of the citizens
in the Youth Leadership Program pledged to exercise their voting
rights for themselves and for non-citizens, she said.
"And just because someone does not have the power to vote,
doesn't mean they can't mobilize politically," she added.
"Youth here have spoken out to different community groups,
they signed petitions, attended rallies and asked other students
to vote for them."
Participation in the electoral process could have a direct impact
on immigration policies, as lawmakers at the federal, state and
local level wrestle with related legislation.
Immigration and education
A high-profile immigration bill that was rejected in late
June by the Senate prompted strong opinions among young Latinos
because it put less weight on family ties when awarding individuals
with visas, and put more emphasis on education and job skills.
"Giving preference for education and English proficiency
- that would reward people who already have economic or social
advantages in whatever country they come from," Cristina
Perry Gonzales, a 25-year-old Chicana who works as a youth organizer
in Portland, Ore.
Another proposal in Congress called the DREAM ACT would allow
immigrants to apply for financial aid and pay in-state tuition
rates to state colleges.
Latinos nationwide are lobbying statehouses to pass similar legislation.
But some Latinos, such as Jissell Martinez, a 20-year-old senior
at the University of Delaware, believe the debate over immigration
fails to address the root causes of migration.
"Everything seems to be putting a Band-Aid over a wound
that needs serious surgery," said the native-born daughter
of Dominican immigrants. "A lot of people feel immigrants
are taking away jobs, increasing crime rates, taking tax dollars,
but they are not asking why these immigrants are coming."
Martinez believes immigration stems from globalization.
"Because of [the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement] and
other free-trade agreements, a bunch of Mexican farmers have lost
their jobs, so of course they're going to go elsewhere,"
-- By Josh Miller, Generation Next