How Democrats Could Lose The Latino Vote

CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA — As lawmakers across the country go home to face their constituents during the August recess, many are being confronted about what they have and have not done about immigration reform. With the political future of both parties resting on who can mobilize the fastest growing voting bloc in the country, scenes like the recent Immigration Town Hall at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida don’t bode well for Democrats.

As House Democrats Joe Garcia and Ted Deutch praised President Obama as “solid” on immigration, several attendees wore “Obama Deports Parents” t-shirts. The lawmakers touted their work in Congress: introducing bills that were never voted on and writing to President Obama urging an executive order to stem deportations. But speaker after speaker who testified that day burst into angry tears as they told of terrifying raids on their homes and workplaces, and immigration hearings where children as young as 3 years old have no legal representation.

“This is a period of shame for our country,” said Maria Rodriguez with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

While plenty of anger was targeted at Republicans, who have refused to let the House vote on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, and instead have voted on bills to further militarize the border and strip migrant children of their legal rights, there was also plenty of frustration with the President and his party.

“I see them all as beholden to economic interests–the Democrats just as much as the Republicans,” Florida-based social worker Grace Toapanta told ThinkProgress. “I think Democrats are afraid of losing these next elections, so they’re proposing a lot of things that may never come true, just to get the Latino vote. I’m a Democrat, but right now I’m unsure who to vote for.”

Democrats have heavily depended on Latino voters in recent local and national elections, and will only need them more as their numbers and political power increase. Nowhere is this truer than in Florida, a state known for swinging elections, where minorities could become the majority within the next decade.

Some, like Representative Garcia, seem to take it as a given that Latino voters will remain loyal. “There is one party that has stood firmly behind America’s tradition of immigration reform that works,” he said, “and there’s one party that has a policy of deportation, that’s clear.”

But it isn’t so clear to the Latino community. The past two years have seen little progress toward comprehensive immigration reform, at the same time the Obama Administration continued to ramp up deportations–surpassing a record 2 million this year.

Grassroots groups like the National Day Labor Organizing Network have called President Obama hypocritical for using his executive order powers on everything from carbon emissions to gun violence, but not immigration: “The hard truth is that while the president can stop deportations, he is choosing not to for political reasons,” executive director Pablo Alvarado said.

When pressed by ThinkProgress on the frustration with and ambivalence about supporting the Democratic party expressed by some in the Latino community, Representative Garcia retorted, “They have no idea what they’re talking about” and “many of them aren’t voters.”


CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

According to a recent poll by Latino Decisions, without progress soon on immigration reform, 54 percent of Latino voters would be less likely to vote for Democrats, and 57 percent would be less motivated about going to the polls–this November and beyond.

“In my church, a lot of people say they’re disillusioned and don’t want to vote at all,” said Toapanta.

Other speakers at the Florida town hall said Democrats’ record on the most recent border crisis has been similarly troubling, citing the President’s proposal that anti-human trafficking laws be waived in order to deport the arriving Central Americans more quickly. But the President later threatened to veto a Republican bill that would have done just that, writing: “This bill will undercut due process for vulnerable children which could result in their removal to life threatening situations in foreign countries.”

Still, it wasn’t enough to placate human rights advocates like Cheryl Little with the organization Americans for Immigrant Justice who testified at the town hall: “We are extremely disappointed that this Administration has suggested that all of these children be sent back. Once they arrive they’re entitled to due process under our laws.”

In Florida and around the country, undocumented immigrants and their allies have been protesting the President’s record and going after his allies in Congress. Their basic message? For families torn apart by deportations, being the lesser of two evil parties isn’t good enough.