The American Counter-Revolution: How Will It Affect Immigrant Rights?

by Roger Algase

In 1776, the United States of America was established and it fought a revolutionary war of independence based on the principles of equality and democracy of all people, most of all through the right to vote, without which democracy cannot exist. The entire history of America from then until now has been one of extending these two principles to apply to more and more people, such as African- Americans after the Civil War and women in the early 20th century. 

In 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act outlawed the most egregious forms of discrimination against African-American voters in the South, and ever since, most or all of the states have taken action making it easier and easier to vote - through early voting, absentee ballots, same day registration, extension of voting hours and similar means.

This extension of democracy to US citizens has gone hand in hand with an increased openness to people from all over the world to live in America and become part of our society. True, the road toward increased tolerance and diversity through immigration has been a ***py one and there have been setbacks, just as there have been setbacks with ensuring access to the ballot for all American citizens. 

But it is no coincidence that in 1965, the same year that the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, the most sweeping immigration reform in US history was enacted - one which swept away the racially discriminatory legacy of the "national origins" immigration law of 1924 as well as the Chinese exclusion laws.

But now, one of America's two major parties, a party which had been in large part opposed to both voting rights and immigration reform in the first place, is now trying to turn the clock back on both immigration and on voting rights for US citizens. The first of these efforts, exemplified by harsh anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama and other states, some but not all provisions of which have been struck down by the Supreme Court, was meant to be a blow against America's tradition of tolerance and diversity. 

Enacting draconian anti-immigrant laws in order to turn America into a whites only, two-tiered, society, inspired at least in principle by the South African Apartheid slogan "Die blanke moet baas blij" ("The white man must keep on being the ruler"), is a blow against America's leadership, its greatness, and its ability to gain respect thoughout the world as a beacon of hope and opportunity for everyone who wishes to and is able to contribute to our society.

But turning the clock back on voting rights for US citizens is a dagger poised at the heart of America itself. Yet that is exactly what the party of Abraham Lincoln, of Theodore Roosevelt and, yes, even of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, is trying to do to our country, not only in the South, but in traditionally more liberal states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In Ohio, the Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has ostensibly given up on an attempt to discriminate against African-American and other minority voters by other Republican officials who were planning to allow evening and weekend early voting hours in two large Republican -leaning counties, but not two large Democratic-leaning ones with big African-American populations. 

Secretary Husted has now decreed equal voting hours across the entire state. But is this really a complete victory for voting rights? Husted has effectively cancelled most evening and weekend early voting hours. This will favor rich white suburbanites who are likely to have more choice over their work schedules so they can get to the polls during regular hours. It will put African-American working people who have less control over their schedules at a great disadvantage. So much for American democracy, Ohio Republican-style, circa AD 2012.

In Pennsylvania, on August 15, the same day that President Obama's historic but also limited and risky (what happens to people who have already applied if Romney wins?) "Deferred Action" initiative for DREAMERS began to go into effect, Pennsylvania State Judge Robert Simpson issued a decision in favor of that state's restrictive voter photo ID law which may go down in US judicial history as one of the most blatantly partisan decisions ever issued.

In refusing a preliminary injunction against the law, Judge Simpson adopted a "see no evil, hear no evil" position which, relying on  the fact that the law did not discriminate on its face (i.e. did not say that only black or Latino voters need the state issued ID), ignored a mountain of evidence that the law was not intended to serve any legitimate purpose, but only to keep minority voters away from the polls.

In effect, Judge Simpson's 70- page decision can be summed up in two words "trust me" - "me" being the very state officials who have the most interest in keeping minority voters away from the polls - to administer the law in a way so that no legitimate voter is deprived of the right to vote. The decision is now being appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans.

It will take the votes of four judges to overturn the decision. Guess how likely that is. If Romney wins Pennsylvania because hundreds of thousands of minority voters are turned away from the polls, he will very likely become the next president. America's counter-revolution against immigration, and against democracy itself, will move ahead.

About The Author

Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.