Shift to Latino plurality calls for progressive policy changes

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This month, Latinos will become the largest ethnic group in California. Making up 39 percent of the population, they will overtake the non-Latino whites, who comprise 38.8 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. The fact that Latinos are projected to become the largest single ethnic group in California will require the state’s government to evaluate current legal policies and the economic opportunities the demographic shift fosters. The Latino population is an important group that should not be ignored and marginalized by the United States. California has an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how to properly embrace the changing demographics and institute positive laws for Latinos, especially Latino immigrants, and create a model for the rest of the nation to emulate.

The U.S. as a whole must recognize that Latinos are critical contributors to the nation’s economic success. The 2010 Census Data results show that the Latino population purchased $1.1 trillion of consumer goods and generated about half of the total increase in consumer expenditures and the nation’s population over the previous decade, according to Fox News Latino. Latinos made up 16 percent of the labor force in 2012 and this group continues to be one the fastest growing segments of the population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, in 2007, the Public Policy Institute of California stated that 97 percent of day laborers are Latino and 80 percent of the Latino day laborers do not have citizenship. The U.S. must pass legislation that supports the improvement of working conditions for this growing population of laborers.

The nation must also limit deportation agencies’ right to question an individual’s citizenship status to only those situations where reasonable motive exists. The Immigration Policy Center released a study in April 2011 showing that if undocumented immigrants were given legal citizenship in California, the state would see many positive changes, including an increase of 633,000 jobs, $26.9 billion in labor income and $5.3 billion in tax revenues. According to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project in 2012, roughly three-quarters of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants were Latino.

California has already made strides in creating legislation designed to embrace the emerging Latino population. Last year California Gov. Jerry Brown ratified the California Trust Act, implemented in January 2014, which allows the state to be less responsive to the Secure Communities Initiative. Secure Communities is a federal deportation initiative that is responsible for detaining individuals that are suspected to be in the U.S. illegally and deport them if that is the case. While this is a step in the right direction, California must go further and develop clear rules that law enforcement agencies must follow. When rules are applied incorrectly, there must be consequences.

In 2013, Brown ratified 805 bills in support of improved working and paying conditions for Latinos and undocumented immigrants, according to The Monterey County Herald. Many of the bills that Brown passed focused on providing protection and, in the case of immigrants, providing protection from the threat of deportation. Bills such as these should be the model for future legislation regarding the Latino population.

Ultimately, the nation must recognize that the growth of the Latino population will drive a significant shift in U.S. demographics, its economy and its politics. California must continue supporting the creation of programs for Latino immigrants to seek legitimate legal status, as the nation’s future is intertwined with that of the Latino population. If the nation does not embrace Latinos, it will limit itself economically, intellectually and culturally.

Christian Morales is an undeclared first-year. He can be reached at cmorales@oxy.edu or on Twitter @WklyCMorales.