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Weekly Diaspora: DREAM Act stalls, voting rights violations in Arizona

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Immigration reform activists suffered a disappointing setback this week. The Senate failed to muster enough votes to move forward with an annual defense authorization bill that would have included both the DREAM Act and a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as amendments. At Feet in Two Worlds, Sarah Kate Kramer has a good breakdown of the floor action.

As Kramer notes, not all is lost. The defense bill -- and the DREAM Act with it -- are certainly stalled, but Democrats say they plan to try again after midterm elections. The DREAM movement, for its part, seems invigorated by the close call.

Reform activists are hoping to channel that new energy into getting out the Latino vote this November, which will increase the chances of moving forward with the act after elections. But, given the obstacles Latinos are expected to face at the polls, it will be an uphill struggle.

The DREAM continues

While many DREAM activists are disappointed by the vote's outcome, they remain steadfast in their resolve to provide hard-working immigrant youth with a path to citizenship.

As Julianne Hing of Colorlines reports, the DREAM Act has galvanized youth activists to an unprecedented degree. In one week, supporters of the measure made a record 25,000 calls to their senators, matching the usually overwhelming vigor of nativist callers one-to-one.

Such support for the bipartisan act isn't surprising. The measure is popular with the public and has even been endorsed by former secretary of state Colin Powell, a self-proclaimed moderate Republican. The DREAM Act also retains the full support of the Defense Department, which included the bill in its 2011 strategic plan in the hopes that it will increase military enlistment during war time.

The new plan is to use the DREAM Act's popularity to make immigration reform a key issue this election season, thus bringing more Latinos to the polls. Their votes will be crucial to keeping DREAM advocates like Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in office and ensuring that the measure is put back on the table after elections.

Latinos struggling to get out the vote

But Latinos bent on motivating voters in swing states this November will meet some significant obstacles.

According to a report by election watchdogs Demos and Common Cause, several swing states are expected to roll out a number of roadblocks that would effectively stifle minority votes. Art Levine at Truthout reports that Arizona has a long history of discriminating against Latinos, in direct violation of the Voting Rights Act:

Besides a legacy of flouting the Voting Rights Act by failing to do outreach to Hispanic voters or to provide sufficient translators, [Arizona] features a draconian voter registration requirement for a government-issued birth certificate that's already barred over 30,000 people from voting between 2004 and 2008, although 90 percent of them, court documents indicate, were native-born Americans.

On top of all that, apparent election mismanagement is so widespread that in the state's largest county alone, Maricopa (home of Phoenix), nearly 30,000 voters -- at a rate three times the national average -- had their "provisional ballots" discarded as invalid in 2008…

While the findings bode ominously for Arizona's midterm elections, they are vindicating in a way. Arizona politicians have long argued that they are able to elect anti-immigrant officials because the state's Latino citizens simply don't vote -- in spite of the fact that they make up 30 percent of the population.

The new report, in combination with Truthout's investigation, reveals just the opposite. Minority populations in Arizona do vote, but they are actively and frequently disenfranchised by a system set up to impede their suffrage.

Voting against Arizona's immigration detention system

And, naturally, corruption at the polls begets corruption in government. The Latino votes that were invalidated last election season were a boon to the private detention industry, which is now profiting from the slew of anti-immigrant laws it helped to write.

As Elyse Foley of the Washington Independent notes, Arizona's SB 1070 was written by a lobbying group funded by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the single largest provider of private detention facilities in the country. Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R) has particularly close ties to CCA, as two members of her staff either work, or used to work, for the company.

Obviously, CCA stands to benefit considerably by any legislation that increases the immigrant detention population -- regardless of how that goal is achieved.

Getting people to the polls is essential to fixing the broken immigration system. With the country deeply divided over immigration, hundreds of thousands of people languishing in detention, and countless youth waiting to become part of the system, those who can vote, must.

Undocumented student and DREAM activist David Cho said it best when he urged young people to vote in a video for Campus Progress.  "While members of congress may have the power to vote for or against important legislation like the dream act," he said, "we have the power to vote for or against every one of them."

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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