While 11 million of America’s Undocumented can’t vote, there are 13.1 million Latinos alone (10.4% of the electorate) who are expected to vote in 2016. The 67% Latino vote was pivotal in Barack Obama’s 2008 election and helped even more in 2012 when he won over 71% of this population. It comes as no surprise that granting a pathway to citizenship for the Undocumented is so fiercely contested. More than 60% of us live in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas – all states with electoral clout.
Illegal immigration is already a hot-button issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. While Democrats have largely supported a pathway to citizenship for the Undocumented and backed President Barack Obama’s programs to shield from deportation young people illegally brought to the U.S. as children, Republicans have largely opposed them. While the Senate approved immigration reform legislation, the GOP-controlled House wouldn’t even allow a vote on the measure. Somehow, despite historical opposition to reform, the Republican Party will have to win more than 40% of the Latino vote nationwide to take the White House. In battlefield states, they will need to aim toward 50%. And though Latinos are a diverse electorate concerned about other matters like jobs and education, immigration is always a bellwether issue.
If we, the Undocumented, can’t vote, then it’s up to us to encourage our citizen community members to get to the polls. In 2012, an astounding 41% of Latinos, who were eligible to cast a ballot, weren’t registered to vote. Ongoing efforts in Republican-controlled states across the nation have steadily eroded our voting rights through intimidation, minority-name purging, unnecessary voter ID requirements, cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration, shortened voting time, fewer polling places, insufficient poll workers and inadequate voting equipment. Commitments to work, school and children, as well as fear of reprisals, have kept many minority citizens from the polls.
After 50 years of bi-partisan support for the Civil Rights Act, a key provision of enforcing voters’ rights and protecting minorities was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 and Congress has yet to restore these protections. Touting fear of statistically non-existent voter fraud, voting rights are being rolled back for people of color, who have been historically under-represented in our democratic process.
While the influence of the minority voter is being threatened, the influence of the rich and powerful has been unleashed since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling opened the floodgates for special interests and lobbyists. Add this to the proliferation of SuperPACs and the ability of a single billionaire to fund a presidential campaign and it seems obscene to further rig the system by restricting voting rights.
The Voter Participation Center sets as its mission what should be the mission of every elected official in the nation: “to encourage and help the New American Majority -- people of color, unmarried women and Millennials -- to register and to vote.”
Many of us fled oppressive, corrupt governments to come to the U.S. We believe this country values the citizen’s right to vote in free and fair elections – a right that been secured at great personal cost by women and countless minorities, particularly African Americans.
So even if we can’t vote yet, we can support the foreign-born citizens we know who may need our encouragement to register and get to the polls. We can work for the candidates who reflect our values, who care about our issues. We can help register voters and we can rally participation for candidates who need us to turn out the crowds. We can fundraise and spread the word on social media. Our potential power as America’s 11-million Undocumented has yet to make itself a political force to be reckoned with. This has to change and change now.
Research Sources: New York Times, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Research Center, L.A. Times, CNN Money Report, Undocumented, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ July interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project, Chuck Todd’s Nerdscreen, American Immigration Council, Emmy-winning journalist/Univision anchor and published author Jorge Ramos, Huffington Post’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Sam Stein & Amanda Terkel’s GOP and the 14th, NPR’s “The Debate Over Anchor Babies and Citizenship,” ABC News, Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Congressional Budget Office