B. The New Dilemma
In a decade when the country was essentially black and white (at 10.5% and 88.6% of the population, respectively), section 5 was conceived as a means of forcing the Fifteenth Amendment's suffrage guarantee upon the Jim Crow South. In contrast, as illustrated in the section above, the country's ethnic makeup today is comprised of more groups, with more members in each group, shrinking the white population to only 56.1% and unseating black Americans from the dominant minority position. Like their predecessors, today's minorities face a number of structural, political, and economic obstacles that inhibit the exercise of their electoral rights. Accordingly, the improved registration and participation rates among black voters attributable to the VRA are yesterday's successes. Modern outlets of discrimination may bear little resemblance to those of the 1960s on the surface, but they further the same hegemonic ends and equally warrant redress.
The inherent difficulties in arriving late to the scene, so to speak, place Hispanic/Latino and Asian groups at a distinct disadvantage politically: these groups are underrepresented both as voters and as elected officials. In the 2008 presidential election, the U.S. Census Bureau reported significantly lower Asian and Hispanic voter-registration rates as compared to non-Hispanic white and black registration rates. Likewise, only 60.5% of naturalized citizens were registered to vote, while 71.8% of native-born Americans were registered. As of 2004, [b]lacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans ma[de] up over a quarter of the national population, but . . . less than 5% of the nation's elected officials.
The record before Congress during section 5's 2006 reauthorization period also provided evidence of high levels of resistance from jurisdictions with growing minority populations. For example, the white mayor and board of aldermen in a Mississippi jurisdiction cancelled a 2001 election to prevent the growing minority population from unseating them. Similarly, a Louisiana jurisdiction proposed a redistricting plan following the 2000 Census that wholly eliminated a majority-black district to encourage proportional representation of whites. And in response to an increasingly politically active and cohesive Latino community, a 2003 Texas redistricting plan removed Latino voters from a congressional district to decrease their electoral opportunities. The reauthorization record also contained evidence of discrimination against language minorities entitled to non-English election materials: NAACP attorney Kristen Clarke noted that, of the 101 counties investigated, eighty percent were unable to produce voter registration forms, official ballots, provisional ballots, and their written voting instructions in a manner compliant with the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
Exacerbating the structural inequalities facing nonblack minorities are the country's reactions to recent political and economic hardship. The years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have been characterized not only by a growing solidarity among native-born Americans but also by a growing resentment and wariness of minority and immigrant populations. As an illustration of this nativist backlash, the FBI noted a sharp increase in hate crimes motivated by ethnicity and national origin in 2001--the rate of such crimes having doubled in just one year since 2000. In the same year, anti-Islamic incidents rose from the second least reported to the second highest reported. And while Muslims are the most visible targets of the post-9/11 era, that period has also engendered antipathy to immigrants and minorities more generally. To be clear, the backlash described here is not solely--or even primarily--violent or overtly xenophobic; instead, it involves native-born Americans drawing what some consider to be a proverbial line in the sand. As an example, in 2006, for the first time in the country's history, the Senate voted to establish English as the official national language of the United States.
The country's reaction to 9/11 may seem isolated, but when placed in historical context, a distinct pattern emerges. As more foreigners, different culturally and physically, moved to the United States, Americans feared that the immigrants invaded their territory, threatened their jobs, and changed their values. Out of context, this passage could easily describe the last ten years when, in fact, it refers to early-twentieth-century America and its fearful reaction to a surge in immigration. The resulting political climate led to anti-immigrant legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1918 Alien Control Act, meant to stem the flow of undesirable immigration and to increase governmental scrutiny of immigrants already in the country. Later in the century, Japanese internment and establishment of the House Un-American Activities Committee sprang from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Second Red Scare, respectively. These examples are, perhaps, unrelated to voting rights, but as professor Kevin Johnson noted, they demonstrate how the hostility toward foreigners outside the nation influences hate for the foreigner inside our borders.
Despite the strong connection between these periods of intolerance and mass immigration or acts of war, political turmoil is not the sole trigger of intolerance. The socioeconomic model of ethnic-competition theory suggests that ethnic groups are constantly in competition with one another for power, social control, territory, economic and social incentives, or social identity. Viewed through an ethnic-competition lens, American minorities and naturalized citizens have not only the lingering effects of 9/11 to contend with but also the economic recession. Ethnic-competition theory would suggest that, as the country's resources become more limited, economic motives for anti-immigrant sentiments become stronger. After years of alarming unemployment rates, it is not uncommon to hear concerns that immigrants are edging Americans out of jobs. With government budgets tightened, people become more focused on the perceived strain illegal immigrants place on public benefits. This environment not only tolerates but in fact nurtures racially discriminatory and anti-immigrant legislation.