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Gary Younge
Latinos on the move

It's a year since Latinos confirmed their political clout with a second wave of demonstrations to protest against impending immigration legislation. In the intervening time immigration legislation has stalled, a wall is being built along the Mexican border, and erosion of support for Republicans has effectively buried the "New Republican coalition", crafted by Karl Rove that was supposed to re-elect the right for a generation.

The marches did not quite create a movement. They didn't need to. But they did expand the relatively tiny network that already existed and gave them courage to escalate their campaign for immigrant rights. This year, the marches will, in all likelihood, be smaller. While this should come as no surprise it should not be taken as evidence that the last year has achieved little.

One year on it is clear that these demonstrations had an electoral impact. Since Latinos are still less likely to vote than other ethnic groups, that could increase significantly - particularly as western states like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico - come into play as swing states.

Politically, the energy the marches exuded and the fillip to local organisers - most of whom were shocked by the size of the demonstrations - has shifted the calculus of the national discussion. It has not created a progressive consensus around immigration; but what it did do was make it clear that the anti-immigration movement was a sizeable and vocal force to reckon with.

Legislatively, the demonstrations stopped what appeared to be relentless momentum towards draconian immigration law but did not reverse its direction.

Meanwhile, the focus of the battle over immigrant rights has moved away from the border to the interior. Last year, driving the full length of the US-Mexican border, I asked Republican candidate Randy Graf if he really thought the US could deport all of the undocumented workers.

"All we have to do is enforce our employment laws and pretty soon they won't be able to get a job and will self-deport," he said. Graf, a Minuteman, lost what had been a Republican seat. His anti-immigrant rhetoric was too much for a constituency that spread from suburban Phoenix down to the border.

But analysis of where the anti-immigrant movement would go next has proved sound. The last year has seen a massive effort to hound and harass immigrant communities all over the country. Meanwhile, other towns, which recognise how dependent they are on migrant labour, are moving to cement immigrant rights.

This is one area where the Bush administration and Congress could actually work together. Given all his other troubles, it is clear how this would help Bush but it is difficult to see how it will help the Democrats. And given the nature of the bill likely to be passed - a guest worker programme, which leaves immigrants with the right to stay but no pathway to citizenship - it is difficult to see what enduring advance it would represent for immigrant rights.

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