By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
The last couple of months have been disheartening for Latinos who were hoping for action in repairing the nation’s immigration system. Faced with insult on immigration from one political party and broken promises from the other, Latinos may be tempted to sit on the sidelines in the 2014 midterms. Some have even counseled that the best way for Latinos to show their power is to stay home.
While there is good reason for frustration, we cannot afford to be apathetic or to indulge in the politics of spite. The only way to ensure that both parties respect Latinos and address Hispanic priorities is to grow our electorate.
That means we absolutely must vote this November.
Latino electoral and political influence has increased dramatically in recent years. According to US Census data, the number of Latino voters increased by nearly 50 percent from 2004 to 2012, while turnout of white voters actually declined. The Hispanic electorate is pivotal in swing states like Florida, Nevada, and Colorado, and has become a factor in emerging purple states like Virginia and North Carolina.
The expansion of the Hispanic electorate has led to progress on immigration. President Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, a move that helped him energize Hispanic voters in an election year. Latinos responded, capturing 10 percent of the electorate and giving three quarters of their votes to Obama. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, national Republican leaders scrambled to develop a strategy for courting Hispanic voters and embraced immigration reform. The shifting tide on immigration was the direct result of the Latino vote, and eventually led to passage of a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate.
Yet Latino electoral power has not reached its full potential, and that fact helps explain the recent setbacks on immigration. More so than other communities, Hispanics have tended to sit out the midterms: only 31 percent of eligible Latinos voted in 2010. This year, both parties are calculating that anti-immigrant voters will be more motivated and influential than Hispanic voters. That is why House Republicans have opted for demagoguery rather than reform, and why President Obama reneged on his promise to provide administrative relief to millions of undocumented immigrants this summer.
This is also precisely why Hispanic participation is more critical than ever this year. To stop the two steps forward, one step back dynamic in the immigration debate and achieve lasting progress, Latinos must participate consistently in all elections—presidential elections, midterms, and off-year elections. Inaction in November will only reinforce the conventional political wisdom that politicians need not fear Latino voters, nor heed Hispanic priorities in a midterm election year.
Beyond immigration, there are many other issues at stake for Latinos this year. Twenty-four states still have not expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, leaving one million Latinos—who would be covered under expanded Medicaid—without health insurance. Californians will vote on a number of important ballot initiatives, including a proposal to reform the criminal justice system by easing the penalties for nonviolent crimes. This year’s elections will have an impact on the prospects for minimum wage increases at both the federal and state levels—something that could benefit as many as 6.8 million Latinos, or nearly one-quarter of the Hispanic workforce. Local elections will impact the safety of our neighborhoods, the quality of our schools and the future of our children.
This year, many politicians have mistakenly decided that Latino voters aren’t as important as other voters. If Latinos choose to sit at home in November, we will only prove them right. Register to vote and join me in proving them wrong on Election Day.