Skip to main content

When American dream is denied over color of skin

By Katherine Culliton-González
November 15, 2013 -- Updated 2038 GMT (0438 HKT)
Immigration reform advocates demonstrate in New York, calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration reform advocates demonstrate in New York, calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Katherine Culliton-González: Boehner says House won't take up immigration reform
  • She says this is shameful; a generation of immigrants live in shadows
  • Promise of equal rights also hurt by Voter ID laws that tend to target people of color, she says
  • Writer: For a just democracy, we must dismantle racial barriers to citizenship and voting rights

Editor's note: Katherine Culliton-González is senior attorney and director of voter protection at the Advancement Project, a next generation civil rights organization that focuses on issues of democracy and race

(CNN) -- This week, House Speaker John Boehner announced that the House will not consider immigration reform this year. Despite growing numbers and increasing political influence of the nation's Latino population, the House leadership has chosen to show it disrespect. How shameful.

Here is some context: Last year, 409,849 human beings -- mothers, fathers, sons and daughters -- were torn from their families and deported. Millions have been exploited, forced to live in unrelenting fear of workplace raids and criminalized as they seek a fair pathway to citizenship. An entire generation of immigrants, the majority of whom are immigrants of color, are relegated to second-class status.

Katherine Culliton-González
Katherine Culliton-González

Sadly, many of the same corporations that build the country's correctional facilities also build and run prison-like immigrant detention facilities. Since the Illegal Immigration Reform Act and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which cuts off long-standing policies of pardoning eligible immigrants who were at one point undocumented, and since 9/11, even the path to legality and recognition as human beings with equal rights has become an illusion.

The breakdown of our democratic values does not end there. The path to equal representation in our democracy — our fundamental right to vote — must also be urgently addressed. On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down the formula of the Voting Rights Act needed for the federal government to protect rights in states with long histories of discrimination. Just two hours after the decision, Texas announced it would reinstate its strict voter ID law. This law had already been struck down by the Justice Department as discriminatory against Latinos and African Americans -- groups significantly less likely to have the limited forms of government-issued photo ID required under the law.

Sen. McCain: Millions live in the shadows
GOPer to vote with Dems on immigration
Rubio: We need Obamacare penalty delay

Florida has followed suit by purging its voting rolls, ensnaring former immigrants who are now citizens despite the lack of measurable non-citizen voter fraud. Under the purge procedure, Florida's immigrant communities may be at risk of getting hit with letters questioning their citizenship status, hearing dates, requirements to show their papers and the costs of replacing lost documents. The state renewed this intimidating attempt to scare off communities of naturalized citizens, despite having settled a discrimination claim brought over a similar purge in 2012 by Advancement Project, Latino Justice, other national voting rights groups, and Florida-based Latino and Haitian American community groups.

In state after state across the country, voter ID and other "show me your papers to vote" laws, laws that disparately impact immigrants of color, are being pursued at an alarming rate.

Given our nation's long history of racial discrimination, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a great backlash against inclusion and equality as the face of our nation changes and the immigrant population grows dramatically. Restrictions on voting rights based on race have been going on since formerly enslaved black Americans first became "citizens" and eligible to vote. But disenfranchisement is not the American way. True democracy is impossible if millions have no road map to become citizens, and if those who are citizens have their voting rights challenged at every turn.

For a true and just democracy, we must dismantle any ethnic and racial barriers to citizenship and voting rights. Only when each person, regardless of race or ethnicity, is allowed to equally participate will our fundamental notions of citizenship and democracy -- and indeed, the American dream -- be realized.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Katherine Culliton-González.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT