Young Latinos Are Set To Change American Elections

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Ganovana Ayala of Boulder, Colo., holds a sign while attending a Latino voting rally on the campus of the University of Colorado before the Republican presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Latino electorate will reach a record high in 2016, soaring to 27 million eligible voters and nearly outpacing African American voters, according to a new Pew Research Center report — suggesting that members of immigrant families could help change the outcome of future elections.

The bulk of the group is increasingly young. Millennials make up almost 44 percent of the Latinos who will be eligible to vote in the 2016 election, according to the report’s projections. The Latino electorate also swelled in part because of the 1.2 million adult Latino immigrants who are living in the country legally and decided to become U.S. citizens.

Although eligible millennial voters are generally less inclined to vote, naturalized U.S. citizens — also known as U.S. citizen immigrant voters — could make up for their lackluster voter turnout rates. The report found that 53.6 percent of immigrant Latinos voted in the 2012 election, turning out more voters than their U.S.-born Latino counterparts.

“While the Latino voter turnout could be lower than expected because of the large share of eligible voters who are millennials, the growing number of U.S. citizen immigrant Latinos may help boost Latino voter turnout rates,” the report concludes.

At least 50,000 Latino voters turn 18 every month. Advocacy groups like Mi Familia Vota have already began targeting millennial voters as they hit this milestone, hiring volunteers under the age of 25 to talk to potential young voters about the importance of making their voices heard and going into classrooms to teach students about the voting process.

“We encourage everybody either eligible or ineligible to talk with someone who can vote, who can make a difference,” Felipe Benitez, the communications for Mi Familia Vota, told ThinkProgress. “For us, voting for our community is more of a family effort. If you or someone in your family can vote, you’re not only voting for yourself, you’re voting for family members who cannot.”

So far, the organization has already registered 80,000 Latino voters through those efforts.

“Our focus was on engaging high schoolers — it’s a process not just about showing up and registering people,” Benitez said. “We come and set tables to work with teachers to provide education to students about why it’s important to participate and vote and why elections matter.

“Frankly we’re building the next generation of Latino leaders,” he added.

It’s possible that the 2016 general election may see a boost in Latinos at the voting booth, particularly because immigration has become a big talking point.

About two-thirds of Latino voters say that it’s extremely important or very important to have changes in federal immigration policies to pass new immigration legislation soon, according to another report from the Pew Research Center. The same poll found that about one-third of Latino voters say that they would not vote for a candidate if they disagreed with the candidate on immigration policy.

That appears to be the case for Jessica Carrera, a 20-year-old college senior at St. John’s University in New York City. Carrera is a first-generation American whose parents and grandparents immigrated from Ecuador. She plans to vote for the first time in 2016 — and though she hasn’t decided on a candidate yet, she already knows that she doesn’t want candidates who hold policy positions that could negatively affect her family and friends. She says her undocumented friends are “some of the hardest working people I know.”

“Certain candidates in the Republican party just don’t embody any of the qualities that I want to see in the future president,” Carrera explained to ThinkProgress. “They’re just so closed off to the possibility that immigrants can have a positive effect on the country and they don’t want anymore coming over here. For me, that’s completely against my belief.”

That’s why she’s skeptical of GOP presidential candidates like Donald Trump, whose virulently anti-immigrant speeches have suggested that Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers. Other candidates for president like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have advocated for mass deportation policies that wouldn’t give undocumented immigrants a chance to come back into the country.

“You think your voice doesn’t matter sometimes and I think you need to be shown why it’s so important,” Carrera said. Noting that millennials make up the majority of Latino voters, she added, “We have such a huge impact and I think that people need to be more aware of that.”

“We’ve passed the point where we took to the streets,” Benitez said, referencing the numerous rallies that advocacy groups have held in support of immigrant reform. “Now, it’s time for us to take to the ballots.”