The Xenophobia Of Some GOP Candidates Is Making Latino Voters More Engaged

Latino voters leave their polling place, the First Unted Methodist Church, after voting in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark Avery) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK AVERY
Latino voters leave their polling place, the First Unted Methodist Church, after voting in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark Avery) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK AVERY

During this campaign season, stringent anti-immigrant rhetoric from GOP presidential candidates has led to some tense — and sometimes violent — altercations between Republican supporters and immigrant advocates. But it’s also having a different effect, as advocates push politically enraged Latinos citizens to become politically engaged.

In particular, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s xenophobic suggestion about Mexicans being rapists, along with his ongoing support for mass deportation policies, has made him glaringly unpopular with Latinos. A new AP-GfK poll out Monday found that 72 percent of Hispanics view Trump unfavorably. That unfavorable rating has indirectly spilled over to other Republican candidates who are similarly failing to curry favor with at least one-third of Latinos surveyed in the AP-GfK poll.

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That’s partly why, as GOP candidates take the stage at the University of Colorado at Boulder for their third presidential debate on Wednesday night, Latino leaders and immigration reform supporters will be stationed outside the venue to launch their “My Country, My Vote” campaign, a 12-month voter registration drive to mobilize the state’s eligible voters.

The setting is intentional. GOP candidates will need at least 44 percent of Colorado Latino voters to win, Al Jazeera America reported.

Federico Pena, the organizer and founder of “My Country, My Vote” campaign, told ThinkProgress that he organized the event because he was frustrated with the “anti-immigrant, anti-Latino comments by a number of candidates for office” and that there hasn’t been “major pushback across the country” in response.

“The rally has two purposes. One is to have a number of speakers eloquently and specifically respond to some of the hateful rhetoric and factual misstatements that some candidates have been making,” Pena said. “Secondly — and equally importantly — it is to launch a massive voter registration campaign in Colorado for the next 12 months. We’ll have iPads to register people to vote, particularly young college students and others. But we want to continue so that we can have a very strong Latino voter registration and voter turnout.”

A politicized generation

Madison County election bailiff Bob Shirley, left, hands a “I Voted” sticker to a voter at a Madison, Miss., precinct Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Election officials believe there will a light turnout of voters for the local and statewide candidates involved in party runoff races. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
Madison County election bailiff Bob Shirley, left, hands a “I Voted” sticker to a voter at a Madison, Miss., precinct Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Election officials believe there will a light turnout of voters for the local and statewide candidates involved in party runoff races. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Out of the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the country, about nine million are Latino. About four million U.S.-born children have at least one undocumented parent, a Pew Hispanic Center poll found in 2010. Because many immigrants have lived in the United States for an average of 13 years, they may have already put down roots. So any mass deportation policy would tear apart people living in mixed immigration status families.

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Since the deportation of an undocumented parent could result in decades of family separation, both immigrant and U.S.-citizen children of undocumented immigrants often take to rallies and protests to appeal to lawmakers to pass more lenient immigration policies.

And as immigrants have become political targets for GOP debates, their deportation fears has a spillover effect on their U.S.-citizen children. A study by Michael Jones-Correa of Cornell University found that the offspring of undocumented immigrants, who may have grown up with immigration and Latino activism, are “more engaged in activism themselves, and are also more optimistic about the likely effects of such activism.”

Donald Trump is spurring youth voter mobilization like I have never seen.

“The [U.S.-citizen] children of undocumented immigrants are at the very least as engaged as those who come here legally,” Jones-Correa said during a Latinos in America panel presentation at the Wilson Center earlier this week. “We’re seeing the creation of a politicized generation. These are kids and their parents who have been targeted and the experience to being targeted is not to disengage, but to engage even more.”

“You’re seeing a subset of Latinos being mobilized by the anti-immigrant rhetoric,” Jones-Correa explained to ThinkProgress. “There’s something broader happening with Latinos which is that even Latinos who are not undocumented, are not first-generation, are feeling a sense of solidarity, a broader sense of threat because of the language being used in the immigration discourse.”

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Some lawmakers echo those sentiments. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) believes that Trump’s anti-immigrant comments will ultimately motivate Latino citizens to vote, though “just not the ones he wants.”

“Donald Trump is spurring youth voter mobilization like I have never seen,” Gutiérrez said on the House floor on Tuesday. “Nationally, we know that 93 percent of Latinos under age 18 are citizens and that every 30 seconds a Latino citizen turns 18. That’s about one million per year for the next decade or more. If they are half as motivated as the young people I am talking to in Chicago, Donald Trump could have a tremendous impact on the youth vote in this country.”

‘If I had the right to vote, I will’

High political engagement also extends to legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants who came to the country as youths and received their education here, but can’t vote yet. Dr. Hinda Seif, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, describes these people as “1.5 generation immigrants.”

According to Seif, the people in the 1.5 generation may be better educated or have stronger English skills than their parents, so they’ve “received some political socialization here” — like learning about the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, and the farmworkers movement.

“They have a sense on how politics can change and how marginalized communities can be empowered through politics so they have an opportunity to help others who may not have had access to that education, learn about the importance of getting involved in electoral politics,” Seif said. “They generally understand that their future depends on U.S. politics.”

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“There’s a Spanish saying: ‘your vote is your voice’ — that only applies to Latino citizens who can vote and therefore have a voice,” Seif explained. “For 1.5 generation activists, maybe you can say ‘your voice is your vote.’ They can’t vote formally, but by exercising their voice, they can have a political impact.”

They generally understand that their future depends on U.S. politics.

Christian Avila, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant with the advocacy group Mi Familia Vota, told ThinkProgress that he’s hoping that the broader Latino voter base — even those who are unconnected with the immigrant experience — will register to vote and later take to the polls. In fact, Avila said his own advocacy has spurred his family members to get more involved around the topic of immigration. He fasted for 22 days two years ago to call on Congress to act on immigration reform.

“We’re not asking people to vote for a certain person — we do hold watch parties for Democratic and Republican debates,” Avila said. “Highlighting a lot of the things that are going on, deportations and deaths in the desert — it started waking people on the power they have with just casting the vote. Many volunteers and their community members have been inspired with a lot of the action that Mi Familia Vota had. We try to keep our volunteers in our community informed about what’s going on and at the same time, agitate them enough to get them to come out to the polls and vote.”

“I tell them, ‘if I had the right to vote, I will,’” Avila added. “Then people say ‘I never thought of it that way. We don’t have to worry about my mom and dad coming home from work. That’s always a given.’ But if you share a story about how much people fear whether mom and dad are going to make it back from work, it inspires people to vote.”