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Strength In Numbers: A South American Take On U.S. Immigration Reform

The United States is increasingly a Latino nation, which means the time is ripe to make sweeping immigration reform a reality. A view from Bogota, Colombia.

A question of justice and equality
A question of justice and equality
Luis Carlos Vélez

BOGOTA - Latinos today represent nearly 17% of the United States' population, and compose the nation's biggest minority group, ahead of both African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

In the future, the United States’ reflection in the mirror will be more and more similar to ours. The numbers simply cannot be ignored. Already, in the 2011 census, more than one of every two people born between July 2008 and July 2009 was Latino. By 2050, it is expected that there will be more than 133 million Latinos in the U.S., accounting for 30% of the population.

In terms of culture, the influence coming up from the south is already making itself heard. The United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico.

Despite this fact, many people of Latino origin continue to feel and to be treated as second-class citizens. Latinos continue to be harassed throughout the country, victims of a strongly rooted social stigma. In Arizona, for example, a person can be stopped in the street just on suspicion of being undocumented.

This is why, due to the strength in numbers and harsh conditions faced by some Latino families in the country, it is so important that the Senate passed the recent immigration reform bill. It is the most ambitious initiative to change the system of legalization of Latinos in more than a generation. The way it was adopted by the Senate, 68 votes to 32, was remarkable.

The document, now pending before the House of Representatives, opens the door to the legalization of 11 million undocumented Latinos who have been forced to live in the shadows while toiling each day to contribute to their adoptive nation. It also highlights the important factor of formalizing the situation of thousands of young people called dreamers. They are illegal immigrants’ children who arrived involuntary in the United States when they were minors. By now, they have been assimilated into the culture and want to continue to pursue the "American dream", but are faced with the harsh fact that their illegality denies them this very opportunity.

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2010 protests in Washington - Photo: Arasmus

Pragmatism and justice

This big step has not been granted for free, nor as the product of the generosity of the United States’ politicians. In reality, it is the fruit of their pragmatism. The Democrats have pushed it in order to capitalize on the growing number of Latinos who will eventually become decisive in the voting booth. At the same time, this initiative is a chance for Barack Obama to respond to the unfulfilled promises of his first term, which had seduced Latino voters in 2008. Moreover, this project still faces tough adversaries such as the Tea Party, and several important figures in the Republican Party.

The legislation is also driven by a large economic component, as the United States continues to struggle to pull itself out from the aftermath of the financial crisis. The legalization of Latinos would not only have an immediate positive effect on government coffers -- given that the taxpayer base would grow -- but it would also improve the country's longterm economic growth with the stability that comes from a new wave of consumer-citizens.

Finally, the approval of comprehensive immigration reform is not only a question of numbers, convenience, politics, economics; it is also one of justice and equality for millions of people. Most of them work in the nation's least desirable jobs, in a true effort to give their families a better future. Now it is time for the second part of this historic approval. The ball is in the court of the United States House of Representatives.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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