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Latino Vote Could Hinge On Immigration Reform Efforts

With fresh scars from the health care debate, some in Washington probably think there’s no upside to take on another contentious issue like comprehensive immigration reform. However, in this case, there is a large constituency growing in electoral might that wants an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, and will not forget a broken promise if they don’t get it.

On a conference call yesterday put together by America’s Voice, immigration reform advocates released a study called “The Power of the Latino Vote,” looking at this constituency and their impact on the 2010 midterms. Despite having swung to Democrats decidedly in 2008, almost single-handedly giving Nevada, Colorado and Florida to Barack Obama over John McCain, a substantial portion of the Latino electorate, foreign-born but naturalized US citizens, has shown the propensity to switch parties from election to election.

And a failure to move on immigration reform, seen as a key issue to this constituency, will have consequences in November, according to the study. While this is not the most crucial issue facing the Latino electorate – as the SEIU’s Eliseo Medina said on the conference call, Latino voters want politicians who “care about working people and not hedge fund pirates and corporate CEOs” – it is a “litmus test” in the community in terms of paying attention to and respecting their concerns. “Latinos are becoming more engaged with every election cycle, and they will not stand for being ignored or attacked,” Medina said.

The report identifies 40 races – 29 House seats, 8 Senate seats, and 3 Governor’s races – where the Latino vote could determine the outcome. Many of the House races are in one of the 79 districts where Latinos comprise over a quarter of the total population. Democrats control 54 of these seats, but a swing among Latino voters could change that. The Senate seats include contested races in Nevada (Reid), Colorado (Bennet), California (Boxer), Illinois (open seat), Florida (open seat) and New York (Gillibrand).

Here’s an item from the key facts portion of the handout:

In a poll of Latino voters, conducted by Bendixen & Associates in May, 2009 (pdf here), only 23% of respondents trusted congressional Republicans to “do the right thing on the immigration issue,” while 60% did not trust the Republicans. Comparatively, by a 69-17% margin, poll respondents trusted Democrats in Congress to do the right thing on immigration and by an 83-10% margin, they trusted President Obama on the issue.

That obviously only holds if the issue gets any attention in this legislative year, and the scant, one-line reference to immigration in the State of the Union address didn’t make it seem like a priority. However, SEIU’s Medina did mention on the call the rhetoric of the Tea Party convention and the re-emergence of Tom Tancredo, saying that “elements from that movement would alarm us considerably.”

But clearly, the President made promises both on the campaign trail and in the White House about fixing the broken immigration system, and these hopes have raised Latino turnout in the past (by close to 54% between 2000 and 2008). Ignoring those promises would have detrimental effects on future elections. Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza said on the call, “The President made a promise to the Latino community, and we haven’t forgotten… If it doesn’t happen, there’s no question it will affect Latino turnout. There will be a huge sense of disappointment.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen