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Awakening Immigrant Vote Can Help Dems

USA Today may not be known for cutting-edge political reporting, but they have an article that should be clipped and posted on the bulletin boards of every Democratic campaign. The article, Martin Kasindorf’s “Immigrant Groups Aim: Turn Marchers to Voters” provides an encouraging introduction to the current and potential power of immigrant voters.

Kasindorf notes that applications for citizenship have increased by 20 percent over last year, an indication of “immigrants’ growing determination to counter anti-immigrant legislation and rhetoric.” He cites statistics from the “We Are America Alliance” voting and citizenship campaign “Democracy Summer”:

The alliance estimates that the nation's immigrant population represents an untapped resource of 12.4 million potential new voters. According to a report prepared from U.S. government statistics and released last month by the alliance, they include: 9.4 million foreign-born residents eligible to become citizens; 1.9 million children of immigrants, ages 18-24, who have not yet registered to vote, and another 1.1 million children of immigrants who will become old enough to vote by the 2008 presidential election.

The lesson of 1994, when California’s Republican Governor Pete Wilson pushed Proposition 187, denying state benefits to immigrants, may be repeated, suggests Kasindorf:

In reaction to Proposition 187, California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez says, naturalizations of Mexican-born California residents surged more than tenfold from 14,824 in 1994 to 151,959 in 1996. Nationally, "the big Prop 187 surge" resulted in 1.1 million more Hispanic registered voters in 1996 than in 1994, says Antonio Gonzalez of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Faced with the loss of Social Security, Medicare and fear of deportation, many became citizens and an estimated 90 percent of the new Latino voters cast ballots for Democrats, according to Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based pollster. Further, Kasindorf, says:

Núñez credits that upheaval for elevating him and other Hispanic Democrats, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "Now we can take this California experiment and move it across the country," Núñez says. Cecilia Muñoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, says: "The potential for impact is greater now because Latinos are now a bigger presence across the country.

The author points out that only 47 percent of voting-eligible Latinos cast ballots in 2004, compared to 67 percent of eligible white voters and 60 percent of eligible African Americans. The Alliance is seeking to raise $20 million to increase immigrant voter turnout by one million. Eliseo Medina, vice president of the Service Employees International Union who is working with the Alliance says that the greater impact will be felt in 2008, but notes that there are currently “10 or 15 districts” where more Latino voters could “make a difference.” Kasindorf Spotlights races in four of those districts in one of several informative sidebars accompanying the article.