Assume for a moment that Congress regains its sanity--big assumption--and doesn't make criminals of illegal immigrants who literally braved hell and high water to come to the United States to find a job. If that odious proposal is taken off the table, will the energy that drove the rally fade away, or can it be translated into more political clout, especially locally? (Mayor Laura Miller didn't attend the rally, she told The Dallas Morning News, because it concerned a national, not Dallas, issue, proving once again that it's possible to be right and wrong at the same time.)
Latino influence in Dallas politics has always seemed disproportionately small, given the size and rapid growth of Dallas' Latino population. Or so it seemed to Buzz, who moved here from San Antonio, where the Latino community speaks loudly and carries a big stick. Can Dallas' Latino population gain the same sort of heft?
Yes, they can. So says Dr. Susan Gonzalez Baker, director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at UT-Arlington. "'Today we march, tomorrow we vote' isn't just an empty slogan," Gonzalez Baker told us. The next step is registering voters. Expect that to happen, and if you're thinking "but illegals can't vote," think again, Bubba. "Those 500,000 who marched are not all illegal immigrants or legal residents, who can't vote," she said.
That latter group, the legal residents, is a particularly important set to watch, Gonzalez Baker said. As a group, legal immigrants from Mexico who live here long enough to become citizens tend to seek citizenship less frequently than legal immigrants from elsewhere. Proximity to Mexico, family and national pride tend to keep them tied to Mexico, and legal residents can do most things citizens can, except vote. Mexican politics was long dominated by one party, so voting was perhaps valued less. Not anymore. "I think Latino immigrants have seen...voting really matters in the United States," she said.
Don't expect them to forget that. Instead, expect more emphasis on "local" issues like affordable housing, access to health care, bilingual education and the fairness of standardized school testing.