Police can detain you based on your appearance and schools must verify your family’s immigration status. If you show up to work and your skin is slightly brown, you risk being deported. This is not Nazi Germany or Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, this is present-day Alabama.
Throughout history, racism has been a part of this southern state and lawmakers added to that infamous history on Sept. 28 when they passed one of the toughest immigration laws in decades. Since Arizona Senate Bill 1070 was passed on April 23, 2010, a series of copycat laws that encourage racial profiling and mock civil rights have surged across the United States.
Proponents of these laws have been able to get away with it because the federal government has failed at pushing immigration reform. A lightly politicized and leaderless Latino community has stared in awe at the sight of these injustices. In a time they need it the most, Latinos and illegal immigrants have no Martin Luther King Jr.s or Harvey Milks to turn to.
Latinos constitute 12 percent of the USC undergraduate student body, comprising a large portion of a school that prides itself on diversity and having the most international students in the nation. Why haven’t we seen student demonstrations against these new immigration laws? They might not affect the Latino community directly yet, but they are taking a toll on Latino identity and heritage in this country. Apathy and lack of collective, organized action is something that haunts Latinos nationwide and locally.
While USC’s Latino students enjoy the sun and fun of Southern California, Latinos in Alabama protest, fearing deportation and the possibility that college will cease to be an option. There must be a group within the Latino community that believes in the possibility of change. Hope is still alive. Just take a look at what California has achieved with the DREAM Act. How can the laws of the same nation differ so greatly from state to state? While some laws grant in-state tuition, others simply terminate the possibility of higher education for illegal immigrants.
This is how the system is designed: Let illegal immigrants in when America needs them and send them home when America no longer requires them. President Barack Obama promised to fix this through comprehensive immigration reform. And yet, a record number of deportations have occurred during his presidency.
America needs to remember its roots. The United States is a nation built by immigrants. In 1942, Mexicans jumped in to fill the labor force gap when the United States entered World War II and since then, Mexicans and Central Americans have become the backbone of the agricultural and low-income industries. America owes its greatness to these people, and it can start paying back through the creation of just laws and comprehensive immigration reform.
Latinos should be aware that achieving immigration reform will come at a price. Blacks fought the Jim Crow laws through tenacity, leadership, persistence and persuasion. Latinos need to know no one is going to give equality to them; they have to rise up and take it. USC and other universities can forge a new generation of Latino leaders that are able to fight for this cause. USC Latino student organizations can start by taking their school’s motto to heart: “Let whoever earns the palm bear it.” Latinos, Hispanics and illegal immigrants need to stop being the largest silent majority among minorities. Sometimes working hard and taking jobs that pay below minimum wage is not enough — sometimes you just have to fight the power.
Rafael Fernandez De Castro Samano is a sophomore majoring in communication.