Millions of Immigrants, but Only a Few in Office

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Posted on January 31, 2014

Source: NY Times

Frank Bruni’s Jan. 28 column, “Emilio’s Great Race,” about an undocumented immigrant running for student body president at his college, highlights a crucial, often absent aspect of the conversation on immigration reform and integration of immigrants: their role in civic and political life.

The number of immigrant elected officials is woefully disproportionate to the total immigrant population in this country. For example, there are 52 million Latinos living in the United States, and only 31 Latinos in Congress; the 17 million Asian-Americans are represented by just 11 Asian-Americans in Congress. At the state and local level, the representation gap is even more dire: Asians and Latinos occupy only about 1 percent of the 500,000 state and local offices in the country.

The few immigrants who do hold elected positions have a deep understanding of their communities and the building blocks needed to strengthen them: equal education opportunities for students like Emilio Vicente, access to health care and emergency services, and support for small businesses that employ local residents.

While a common-sense immigration policy is critical, closing the representation gap is also essential. It would allow immigrants to contribute fully to all sectors of American society. Emilio represents the intelligence, resolve and tenacious work ethic so integral to American identity. We should seek out and support these untapped new American leaders because of their tremendous potential to enrich our nation.

New York, Jan. 29, 2014

The writer is president and founder of the New American Leaders Project and a former commissioner of immigrant affairs for New York City.