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07.12.12

When the Law Targets Latinos: The Battles Yet to Be Fought

While the Latino community applauds the Affordable Care Act, a key fight against bias, racial-profiling, and stereotypes in legislation remains, say a trio of top Latino advocates.

Latinos across the country are celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act—and rightly so. Currently, 1 in 3 Latinos are uninsured, and the community stands to benefit greatly by improvements in health-care access. However, important battles for immigrants and Latinos remain.

In the same week the Supreme Court upheld the historic health-care act, it also upheld the most controversial tenet of Arizona’s notorious racial-profiling law, otherwise known as SB 1070. This provision gives police officers the right to demand “papers” of anyone who “appears” to be in the country without authorization.

Add that to the recent House passage of the Violence Against Women Act—legislation that is intended to protect women from violent crimes, but actually excludes or weakens protections for many groups, especially immigrant victims of violence—and it is clear there is much more to do.

It’s not unusual for immigrants—and even those who “look like” immigrants—to be ignored and even dehumanized by immigration opponents. But the law should not support such behavior.

And so, even as we applaud news that the Affordable Care Act stands, we are concerned about some of its provisions.

Certainly some tenets of the act will benefit immigrants and their families, including support for community health centers, language and cultural competency training for providers, the expansion of Medicaid coverage, new marketplaces for insurance, and an investment in women’s health that will mean better access to preventive care such as contraception, mammograms, and cervical-cancer screenings, without co-pays. Still, millions of immigrants will be excluded from coverage. Lawful permanent residents who have been in the U.S. for fewer than five years are barred from Medicaid. Further, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from participating in the state health-insurance exchanges, even when purchasing insurance with their own money.

Even more concerning: the racial-profiling in Arizona’s largely unconstitutional SB 1070 immigration law, and the House’s Violence Against Women legislation—which removed safeguards for victims of domestic abuse who are applying for residency visas. These laws encourage suspicion, bias, and profiling of immigrants, Latinos, and other people of color. Anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation are nothing more than thinly veiled attacks on Latino civil rights.

These laws are being used as a political organizing tool that pits one community against others. And they reflect a profound misunderstanding of Latinos. They remind us that there is more to be done to guarantee our civil and human rights are fully acknowledged and enforced.

Tired stereotypes of Latinos are being unraveled by new research. For instance, studies show that 97 percent of sexually active Latinos have used a form of contraception in their lives, but costs have been a barrier to using it consistently. Nearly 90 percent of Latinos favor the new health-care provision for birth-control coverage without co-pays.

Research also shows that a majority of Americans are supportive of the DREAM Act, which includes a pathway to citizenship for some immigrant youth. We all have dreams, and we have a right to pursue them.

These laws encourage suspicion, bias, and profiling of immigrants, Latinos, and other people of color.

Latinos must work together to combat stereotypes, and speak out in favor of our civil and human rights. We believe politicians and political campaigns are increasingly recognizing the power of our vote, but they must also actively work against laws and policies that dehumanize, stigmatize, and harm our communities.

That’s why, arm in arm, in solidarity, we must work even harder to make sure that we push back against dehumanizing anti-immigrant campaigns, wherever and whenever they arise—and remind our political leaders that our support will require respect for our entire community in both word and deed.

While we have taken one step forward on health care, the fight for Latino rights continues. Those who oppose health-care reform and the progress of our nation will no doubt try to unravel what the court has affirmed. We can also expect that without change, more draconian legislation like Arizona’s SB 1070 law will be introduced in states nationwide. That is why it is critical that Latinos, immigrants, and allies who support health, dignity, and human rights for all continue the fight to do the right thing—on behalf of the entire nation.