Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 October 2015, 08:57 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - United States of America : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date April 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - United States of America : Overview, April 2009, available at: [accessed 6 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Updated April 2009


The United States is situated in North America. It is bounded by the North Atlantic Ocean to the east, the North Pacific Ocean to the west, Mexico to the south, and Canada to the north. Alaska also borders Canada, with the Pacific Ocean to its south and the Arctic Ocean to its north. The island state of Hawai'i is situated in the Pacific, south-west of the North American mainland. The United States is the world's third-largest country by size (after Russia and Canada) and by population (after China and India).


Main languages: English, Spanish, other languages (see under minority groupings below)

Main religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam

Minority and indigenous population groups[1] include Latinos, 41.9 million (14.5% of the total population), of whom 63 per cent are of Mexican origin;[2] African Americans, 34.9 million (12.1%); Asian Americans, 12.5 million (4.3%); Native Americans, 2.4 million; Arab and other Middle Eastern Americans, 1.2 million; Native Hawai'ians, 0.4 million; and Alaska Natives, 106, 660.[3]

The USA presents a minority situation of unusual diversity and complexity. There are seven key minority groupings: Latinos (including Puerto Ricans), African Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Arab and other Middle Eastern Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawai'ians, and Inuit and Alaska Natives. In most cases, these groupings include several distinct subgroups.

There are dozens of other distinctive ethnic and religious groups in the USA. While some are small immigrant groups that do not yet have sufficient numbers and history to attract notice, others have been relatively successful in reaching accommodation with the dominant population and cannot be said to suffer significant discrimination as minorities in the USA today.

Irish, Italian, Polish and other Roman Catholic European immigrants, for example, encountered serious prejudice prior to the Second World War, but have now integrated as 'whites'. Often these groups have maintained their cultural cohesion while achieving economic advancement.

Jewish people – 6.4 million or 2.2 per cent of the US population according to a survey carried out by the American Jewish Committee in 2006 – are a special case. Anti-Semitism in the USA was widespread and embedded in social and economic structures as recently as the mid-1960s. Today, however, Jews partake in every aspect of life, including political and social institutions and the media, according to figures from the 2006 Congressional elections 8 per cent of the Senate and House of Representatives are Jews. Organized anti-Semitic violence occurs through hate-group activity – in 2005 the Anti-Defamation League reported a total of 1,757 anti-Semitic incidents, including verbal and physical assaults, harassment, property defacement and vandalism.

Other religious minorities – including Amish, Quaker, Dukhobor and Bruderhoffer Christians, Mormons, Muslims, Christian Scientists, Hare Krishnas, Native American spiritualists and Scientologists – have encountered barriers to the free practice of their faith in the past. However, jurisprudence has affirmed these groups' constitutional rights to freedom of religion, including tax exemption. The pacifist Amish and Quakers were guaranteed freedom from compulsory service under the 1950s and 1960s military draft, and the Amish and other traditionalist religious groups have prevailed against pressures to abandon their rural, independent lifestyles.

According to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 the evangelical Christian population in the USA has burgeoned over the last decade, resulting in political trends that trouble religious liberty advocates. For example, there have been popular conservative campaigns on the teaching of intelligent design in place of Darwinism and compulsory prayer in public schools, and for 'family values' policies generally. Some operations against religious 'cults' have been criticized for blurring the line between enforcing the law and enforcing moral and religious conformity.

Finally, according to US government statistics, which often undercount by slotting mixed-race people into one category or another, people of mixed race made up a growing proportion of US society, rising from 1 per cent in 1968 to 3.4 of the US population in 1989. In the 2000 Census, however, only 2.4 per cent of the population reported two or more races. Mixed-race people face particular emotional and social challenges in the rigid grid of US race relations.


The USA was founded in 1776 with the American Declaration of Independence, including the basic tenets that the equality of all people is 'self-evident' and that human rights, including 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', are 'inalienable'. The US Constitution's first ten amendments, or the Bill of Rights, provide for equal access to a broad range of civil rights and liberties. The thirteenth amendment prohibits slavery; the fourteenth entrenches the due process of law and equal protection for all.

Until the mid-twentieth century, however, these provisions were consciously misinterpreted to allow for disenfranchisement of women and minority groups, dispossession of indigenous peoples, official segregation, discrimination in education, employment and housing, and unequal access to public services. The US Supreme Court repeatedly endorsed these practices as legal and acceptable.

After the Second World War, the Supreme Court shifted its stance radically. The Brown case (1954) ended official school segregation, and is widely seen as a huge step forward for general social integration. This landmark case was broadened by later rulings extending desegregation into other areas and requiring governments to take a proactive stance in integrating 'racial' groups and providing equal opportunity.

These decisions were both the product of and the engine for an extraordinary period of minority activism for civil and political rights. Eventually, minority demands were recognized in new legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, colour and creed in voting, employment, federal programmes and public facilities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 included a series of measures intended to short-circuit racist attempts to exclude minorities from political life. At the same time, the Johnson administration launched the Great Society anti-poverty campaign, including expanded social welfare programmes and equal employment opportunity laws. Over the next decade, governments and courts entrenched these new laws in policy, and the USA recognized (limited) indigenous sovereignty rights for the first time since the colonial period.

However, the USA has been reluctant to make international commitments to internal minority rights. It has often delayed ratifying UN accords for decades after signing them. Only in the early 1990s did the USA finally ratify the Torture Convention, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The USA is also party to the American Declaration on the Rights of Man, which contains a general statement against discrimination.


Largely, although not entirely, a nation of immigrants, the USA's concepts of civil rights, integration, universal equality and independence have influenced human rights around the globe. Dominance by the 'white' Christian majority has been a constant since North America was colonized in the sixteenth century. Since US independence in 1776, government policy has evolved from a basis in slavery and conquest, through segregation and exploitation, into an official stance favouring minority integration and even self-determination.

New methods of registering voters have been promoted as a way to bolster minority electoral participation in the USA. The 1965 Voting Rights Act mandated the redrawing of voting districts to benefit minorities. The Act is a cornerstone of the civil rights era and was adopted in 1965 to stop the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters, particularly in the South, through barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests. The National Voter Registration Act was passed in 1994, after long resistance from the Republican Party. By allowing voters to register when they obtain drivers' licences or at social service offices, this 'Motor Voter Act' more than tripled the pace of registrations in 1995.

Affirmative action became a pivotal issue in the 1990s. California Governor Pete Wilson launched a suit against the federal government in 1995 protesting against mandatory affirmative-action programmes for state governments. In 1996 voters in California approved Proposition 209, which ended affirmative-action policies in public institutions, and a similar measure was passed in Washington state in 1998. Such measures led to a sharp drop in enrolment of minority students, particularly African Americans and Latinos. In 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan's affirmative-action admission policies, but in November 2006 Michigan voters adopted Proposal 2, banning affirmative-action policies in all of the state's public institutions. In June 2007 the Supreme Court reversed the landmark desegregation judgement of 1954 by ruling that race cannot be used as a factor in school entry. The majority of the judges argued that racial classifications perpetuated the very divisions they were put in place to dissolve. The decision followed protests from white parents whose children had been denied entry to schools because they would have exceeded a quota of non-black pupils.

Following the events of 11 September 2001, the US introduced domestic legislation to address homeland security in the face of a perceived terrorist threat; such legislative acts have impacted negatively upon minority people, specifically Muslims and/or people of Middle Eastern or South Asian heritage. The political and social culture in North America has likewise had a chilling effect upon these communities' normal activities: men and women have attended mosque less frequently or stopped completely, whole families have left North America for their home countries, sometimes under unsafe conditions.

In the USA, among other recent legislation like the Patriot Act I and II, the current material witness law has had an adverse effect upon the civil rights of members of minority communities. The Material Witness Act, dating from 1984, was enacted as a means of allowing the government to get witness testimony from persons who might otherwise flee to avoid testifying. The law is predicated upon the theory that if a court believes a witness's information to be 'material' to a criminal case, the witness can be locked up, but theoretically only for the time necessary for the deposition. Since 11 September 2001, the US Department of Justice has manipulated use of this Act for a different purpose: securing the indefinite detention of people whom the government has wanted to investigate as possible terrorist suspects.

A Human Rights Watch report of June 2005, Witness to Abuse, found that detainees were denied basic access to justice, including a right to a public trial without delay, access to an attorney and being informed of their Miranda rights (the right to remain silent, right to an attorney, etc.). By using the law in this way, the government has imprisoned at least 70 men to date – all but one Muslim, at least three-quarters of whom are US citizens and 64 of whom are of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent.

Since May 2005, the US Department of Justice's role in these men's futures has been determined: 42 were released, with 13 of them receiving a formal apology from the US government for wrongful imprisonment. On 9 September 2005, a federal appeals court determined that Jose Padilla, a Chicago-born Latino Islam convert, could be held indefinitely as an 'enemy combatant', overturning a South Carolina ruling that such detention violated Padilla's habeas corpus rights. After serving three years Padilla was charged with criminal conspiracy in January 2006 and on August 16, 2007 at the end of a jury trial – during which the presiding judge claimed prosecutors were 'light on facts' regarding conspiracy allegations – Padilla was found guilty of conspiring to kill people in an overseas jihad and to fund and support overseas terrorism. His January 2008 sentence drew 208 months in a so called 'Supermax' high-security Colorado prison.

On June 12 2008 the US Supreme Court ruled that foreign detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention centre in Cuba also have the right to force the US government to prove the legality of their ongoing detention to a neutral judge rather than be tried by military officers. This followed years of successful resistance by the Bush administration to prevent them from gaining access to civilian judges and their higher standards of proof.

Nearly 800 men were brought to Guantanamo since its establishment in 2002. The majority have been released or transferred to their home countries due to lack of sufficient evidence to put them on trial for war crimes. Habeas corpus petitions have been filed on behalf of more than 200 of the current 270 Guantánamo detainees since 2005 and 20 have been charged with criminal offences.

This included 40 year-old Yemeni national Salim Hamdan, considered to be Osama Bin Laden's driver. He became a central figure in the ongoing legal conflict by taking his case (Hamdan vs Rumsfeld) to the US Supreme Court in 2006. Hamdan was caught at a road block in Afghanistan in 2001, soon after the 11 September attacks. He was charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. In August 2008, a jury of six military officers found him guilty of the lesser charge of material support only, and gave him a five-and-a-half year sentence which included a five year credit for the time already served. Hamdan became the first detainee to be convicted by the Guantánamo military court, however in a precedent setting decision he was transferred to Yemen in November 2008 to serve the remaining month of his sentence thus indicating the possibility of a significant administration policy change regarding Guantanamo detainee rights.

It has become almost a truism that the US legal system discriminates against non-whites, especially in criminal cases. The 1992 police beating of Rodney King and the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson were particular flashpoints. Other frequently cited examples include: the wildly disparate sentencing patterns in convictions for possession of crack cocaine (associated with non-white users) and powder cocaine (used mostly by whites); the disproportionate imprisonment of black, Latino and Native American convicts compared to whites; and the more frequent use of the death sentence against non-whites, especially when convicted of killing a white victim.

US minorities have generally shared a common pattern of experience since the 1960s. Civil rights movements brought cultural awareness, community organization and political participation. A small percentage of each group entered the middle class – often leaving traditional ethnic neighbourhoods for the suburbs – but the less well-educated and financially secure saw their communities and personal fortunes sink. Also in many cases hanging onto middle class gains has proven to be difficult. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts released in November 2007 revealed that 45 per cent of the African-Americans whose parents were solidly middle income in 1968 fell to the poverty or near-poverty levels in the next generation. Only 16 percent of whites showed a similar downward trend.

Open hostility towards inner-city minority groups and especially Hispanic immigrants has intensified By the 1990s many people had become disillusioned with the integrationist ideals and welfare state programmes of the 1960s. Nationalist and separatist sentiments among minorities began to proliferate and many insecure middle-class whites succumbed to suburban protectionism, whose extremes are manifested in the the growth of 'gated communities' with protective walls and private security forces, ironically in some cases constructed with significant use of undocumented immigrant labour.

The 1992 election of Bill Clinton's Democratic administration raised hopes for improved representation, especially among African Americans. Superficially, the Clinton cabinet was the most diverse in US history to date, but few of its policies fulfilled its promises of urban economic renewal.

In 1994, Congress was taken over by a Republican majority whose agenda (the 'Contract with America') included dismantling anti-poverty programmes and ending programmes that favour minority candidates for positions in employment or education. Economic hardship coincided with a crisis of purpose. In 2001, and then again in 2005, a Republican administration headed by president George W. Bush was voted into office in a process that eventually required Supere Court intervention. Bush's administrations have been charged with further pursuing anti-affirmative action policies and blocking educational, anti-poverty and health care programmes intended to improve the state of America's minorities.

But where racial discrimination is perhaps most evident is in the sphere of criminal justice policies and practices. Racial profiling by the police, immigration and airport officials is widespread in the USA and, following the September 2001 attacks, has greatly expanded. By 2006 approximately 32 million Americans had reported being victims of racial profiling. There were continuing concerns in 2006 about the extraordinarily high incarceration rates and long sentence periods for African American and Latino minorities that are far higher and longer than white Americans.

The combination of decreased urban aid, increased policing and cultural misunderstanding is potentially explosive. Riots in Los Angeles and Miami in the early 1990s were touched off by police brutality in economically deprived communities. Meanwhile, the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma attributed to members of white-supremacist 'citizen militias' – along with continuing evidence of neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and other organized racist activity – hinted at the extremes of white backlash.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Race continues to be a live issue in the US with affirmative-action programmes – intended to remedy past discrimination – and housing segregation sparking debate. Ongoing concerns are the incarceration rates and sentence periods for minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos, owing in large part to state and federal mandatory sentencing laws for drug-related offences.A May 2008 report by Human Rights Watch found that on average across 34 states black males were 11.8 times more likely to serve time in prison than white males and black women 4.8 times as likely to be sent to jail than white women. Earlier in a March 2005 report, Caught in the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Children, Fair Laws for Families revealed extraordinarily high rates of incarceration of women – since 1986 there has been an 800 per cent increase in the number of African American women behind bars in state and federal prisons – damaging the lives of these women, their families and the communities from which they come.

The Supreme Court judgment in Blakely v. Washington of 24 June 2004, followed by the US v. Booker and Fanfan judgment delivered 12 January 2005, questioned the constitutionality of federal mandatory sentencing laws, ultimately finding that such laws abridge sixth amendment rights (specifically trial by jury) insofar as they require judges to apply them. Immediately, thousands of defendants awaiting sentences previously governed wholly by mandatory sentencing laws benefited from the decision.

Also after much criticism by civil rights organizations and prisoner advocacy groups, in November 2007, Federal authorities announced reduced penalties for new drug related cases, and adopted a plan to retroactively reduce mandatory prison sentences. The new proposal, which could result in the unprecedented nationwide release of 19,500 mostly African American inmates. was immediately challenged by the Justice Department and further fuelled the debate about race and the justice system.

At mid-year 2005 more than half the people in local jails were of racial or ethnic minorities. Whites made up 44.3 per cent of the jail population; African Americans, 38.9 per cent; Latinos/Hispanics, 15.0 per cent; and other races (American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawai'ians, and other Pacific Islanders) 1.7 per cent. Female incarceration rates, though significantly lower than male rates, reveal similar racial and ethnic disparities. The incarceration rate for African American females was 347 per 100,000, more than twice the rate for Latinas (144 per 100,000), and close to four times higher than the rate for white females (88 per 100,000). These differences were consistent across all age groups. An estimated 1 of every 20 persons (5%) in the USA can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime. The lifetime chances of going to prison are higher for men (9%) than for women (1%) and higher for African Americans (16%) and Latinos (9%) than for whites (2%). At current levels of incarceration, newborn African American males have a greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes and Latino males have a 1 in 6 chance, compared to a 1 in 23 chance of serving time in prison or jail for white males.

Disenfranchisement of minority voters continues to be a national concern. An estimated 5 million Americans, 2 million of whom are African American and Latino, have lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction, However, on 29 June 2005, Rhode Island made inroads in addressing this disparity by approving legislation that would amend the state Constitution to reinstate voting rights for parolees and probationers. On 17 June 2005, Iowa's governor issued an executive order to restore voting rights to these groups. There are now 39 states legislatively supporting the voting rights of ex-offenders. The racially discriminatory effect of state disenfranchisement of ex-felons was challenged in March 2006, when the Eastern District Court in Washington state heard the case of Farrakhan v. Washington. The lawsuit was originally filed by a group of Black, Latino and Native American incarcerated individuals, who argued that Washington's felony disenfranchisement statute operates with racial bias in the criminal justice system, causing 'a denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race or color'. Collectively, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans represent only 12 per cent of Washington's overall population but comprise approximately 36 per cent of the state's incarcerated population. In July 2006, the Court ruled against the plaintiffs, as although it 'has no doubt that members of racial minorities have experienced discrimination in Washington's criminal justice system', Washington had no history of racial bias in its electoral process.

On 20 July 2006, the Senate voted 98-0 to renew the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act for another quarter-century. Some of the temporary provisions of the Act which were renewed include: a requirement that states with a history of voter discrimination gain federal approval for voting-law changes; a requirement that states with a high percentage of voters whose native language is not English provide language-assistance to voters; a requirement to provide voters with limited English proficiency assistance at all stages of the election process; a ban on the use of literacy, understanding or good-character tests as a voting requirement; authorization of the courts to appoint federal examiners to register voters; prohibition of English-only elections in jurisdictions where more than 5 per cent of the voting-age population are in a language minority.


The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans, Louisiana on 29 August 2005 made headline news across the world as poorer residents, overwhelmingly minority, became trapped in the rising floodwaters owing to neglectful decisions made by local, regional and national officials.

Emergency plans for the below-sea-level city neglected to account for tens of thousands of people without private transportation, grossly affecting minorities: over two-thirds of the city's residents at the time were African-American, and one in four citizens lived in poverty. This single event caused the greatest domestic migration crisis in America since the Civil War and weighed disproportionately on minorities. Three years later in August 2008 many remain homeless and jobless with diminished hopes as the overall US economy continued to slow down. Rebuilding efforts have mostly centered on the tourism focused downtown areas and the business district to the neglect of residential neighbourhoods.

Following Katrina, a coalition of US-based human rights and grassroots organizations formed to call on the US government to recognize survivors as Internally Displaced Persons, and afford them the protections laid-out in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998), including the right to basic humanitarian assistance (such as food, medicine, shelter), the right to be protected from physical violence, the right to education, freedom of movement and residence, political rights such as the right to participate in public affairs and the right to participate in economic activities (Principles 10-23), and the right to assistance from competent authorities in voluntary, dignified and safe return, resettlement or local integration, including help in recovering lost property and possessions (Principles 28-30).

With the post Hurricane Katrina resettlement of the mainly African American victims still unresolved, the State of Louisiana in 2007 also experienced mass protests over unequal treatment of minorities in the justice system.

This took the form of the largest civil rights demonstration in the United States for more than two decades. On 20th September 2007 an estimated 50,000 mainly African American protestors from across the country travelled to the small town of Jena Louisiana to petition the justice system to uphold the law with respect to the trial of juveniles.

Six teenagers faced years in adult prison for violent altercations that followed a silent protest vigil under a tree on the Jena High School lawn, where symbolic neo-segregationist nooses were found hanging.

Authorities directed the full extent of the law upon the defendants. However Louisiana's Third Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on the grounds that one of the main defendants was improperly tried as an adult.

Participants saw their demonstration in national terms, indicating the mistreatment of the so-called " Jena 6" was just a local reflection of a nation wide historical pattern of unjust treatment by the judicial system. Especially given the connections of the case to instances of racism, xenophobia and so-called hate crimes.

Race and gender politics

With regard to gender equity, according to 2000 US Census Bureau and other data, a full-time working white American woman currently receives only 73 cents to every dollar received by a man. African American women are paid only 65 cents for every dollar received by white men, while Latino women are paid only 53 cents for every dollar received by men. Women do more than 80 per cent of unpaid family work, even though two-thirds work outside the home. Women make up less than 15 per cent of Congress and law-firm partners, 12 per cent of big-city mayors, 9 per cent of state judges and 1 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

On taking office President George W. Bush headed a cabinet team which, although politically right-wing, proved to be the most ethnically diverse in the US to date. It included two Latinos and also the first African American woman (Condoleezza Rice) and Asian American woman (Elain Chao) in the cabinet's history.

In the Democratic dominated 110th Congress that took office in January 2007 figures for ethnic minority representation rose slightly compared to the previous years. 42 African Americans, took office five of whom chaired Congressional committees. Hispanic representation rose to 26 and Asian and Pacific Islanders to five representatives. There was just one Native American in Congress however there was more religious diversity with the first time entry of two Buddhists and a Muslim. Indications are that this profile did not change significantly for the 111th congress following the November 2008 elections, however there was a noteworthy change in the senate.

In February 2007, Barack Hussein Obama, then junior United States Senator from Illinois, announced his candidacy for the 2008 US presidential election. The US Senate Historical Office listed him as the fifth African American Senator in US history and the only African American serving in the US Senate.

On June 3 2008 after a 17-month campaign the first generation African-American senator clinched the Democratic nomination defeating Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady and initial front-runner. The race between a mixed-race man with coloured skin, and a white woman often brought to the forefront the issues of race, class, gender and religion.

On November 5 2008, Obama sealed his historic run for office by defeating Republican rival Senator John McCain by a 8.5 million-vote margin thus becoming the first American of African ancestry to be elected president of the United States.

In a country that is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, some of the success could be attributed to a more than 20 per cent overall surge in minority voting. The estimates are that about 5.8 million more minorities voted in the November 2008 presidential election compared to 2004. Based on exit polling data, the nationwide African -American vote rose from 11 percent in 2004 to 13 percent of the ballots in 2008. The Latino/ Hispanic turnout increased from eight to nine per cent. In addition, an estimated 67,000 more Asian – Americans cast ballots in 2008 compared to 2004, as well as 1.3 million more minorities of other races, including so-called biracial individuals.

Moreover many more minority voters favoured the Democratic candidate with Blacks voting 96 per cent for Obama to 3 per cent for McCain; Obama also received a 67 per cent of the Latino vote versus 30 per cent for McCain; and Asians, gave Obama 63 per cent compared to 34 per cent McCain.

However equally noteworthy was that Obama's community based and Internet driven campaign that focused especially on social and economic issues seemed to appeal not only to a large number of minorities, but also to significant numbers of younger, more liberal and wealthier voters of all ethnicities challenging old paradigms and hinting at the emergence of important new trends in the overall US social and political landscape.


With the influx of immigrants projected to rise from the current nearly 1.3 million annually to more than 2 million a year by mid century, according to the Population Reference Bureau, the issue of immigration continues to be a major factor in social, political and economic policy issues.

The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 heralded a new era of intolerance by the US administration in terms of migrant policy. Among others, its provisions required 700 miles of border fence to be constructed on the US-Mexico border at points with the highest number of illegal border crossings, raised penalties for illegal immigration and classified unauthorized immigrants and anyone who helped them enter or remain in the US as felons. It also proposed criminal record, terrorist watch list clearance, and fraudulent document checks for any illegal immigrant before being granted legal immigration status. In April 2006, millions of people mostly from the Latino community were involved in protests over the Act. As part of the wider immigration debate, most of the protests not only sought an overhaul of this bill, but also a path to legalization for those who had entered the US illegally and fewer Immigration Services delays.

In June 2007 a bi-partisan bill to overhaul immigration policy collapsed in the Senate with no hope of revival until after January 2009. The scuttled bill offered legal status to millions of illegal immigrants while trying to secure the country's borders but was criticized by conservatives as being a form of amnesty for lawbreakers. Both supporters and opponents agreed the defeat reflects the degree of polarization over the issue of immigration.

Meanwhile construction of the fence has been very sporadic and fraught with litigation. In the spring of 2007 more than 25 landowners, including a corporation and a school district in Texas refused border fence surveys. The lands of three Native American Nations will by divided by the proposed fence and Native American groups like the U.S. Native American Human Rights delegation and Apache plaintiffs have challenged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in court. In April 2008 the DHS announced plans to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to speed construction of the barrier.

Fence opponents like the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico and the American Civil Liberties Union have continued to argue that the barriers are not an effective deterrent and inappropriately jeopardize the health and safety of those seeking illegal entry into the United States.

Meanwhile, as of mid 2008, individual communities across the couuntry have increasingly been resorting to arguably intolerant local laws to apprehend and expel illegal immigrants from their respective jurisdictions. For example the City Council of Fremont Nebraska (pop.25000) has proposed an ordinance that would require every person occupying a rented home or apartment, whether US born or immigrant, to obtain a five dollar occupancy license from the city. All renters will need to submit their applications to local police for verification of their residency status and a new license would be needed every time a resident relocated to a different rental unit. Providing false information or occupying a unit without licence will carry a hefty fine ($500) however there is no penalty for landlords who fail to comply nor is there any ban on hiring of illegal immigrants.


[1] All statistics are from the 2005 Census, unless otherwise indicated.

[2] (2005).

[3] Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (2006).

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld