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Immigration Reform: Litmus Test in 2010 Elections

New America Media, News Report, Khalil Abdullah Posted: Feb 12, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Latino vote can decide at least 40 U.S. electoral races in the upcoming 2010 mid-term elections. But if anti-immigrant or anti-Latino rhetoric becomes part of any candidates platform, would Latino voters sit out the election? A new report released earlier this week thinks not.

In fact, a candidates past statements can come back to haunt them now. Illinois Republican Congressman Mark Kirk is now running for the Senate seat once held by President Obama. The report cites a remark he made in 2007 while debating whether the U.S. government should send contraceptives abroad to foreign family planning agencies.

At that time Kirk said that shipping contraceptives to Mexico would be one way to reduce the long-term pressure on Americas borders.

The report, The Power of the Latino Vote in the 2010 Elections, released this week by Americas Voice, said that remark is just part of Kirks consistent voting record opposing common sense immigration reform.

Janet Muruguia, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), who spoke on a telephone conference call discussing the study, said bread-and-butter issues are important, but Latinos will not stay at home if any candidate indulges in immigrant-bashing.
Theres something else we care about, Murguia said, its called: Respect.

Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said Latinos clearly desire to participate in the civic life of this country, and want politicians to care more about working families than hedge fund pirates and CEOs. But, he added, immigration reform is a litmus test for candidates who are seeking election in the 2010-midterms -- and for the Obama presidency.

The report, replete with almost five pages of footnotes to support its analysis, shows that 57 percent of Latino voters supported Obama in 2008 versus 42 percent for the Republican candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain. In 2004, Latino voters favored then-president and Republican candidate George Bush with 56 percent of their vote versus 44 percent for the Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Yet, the Latino shift to favoring Democratic candidates may not hold, in part because, as Frank Sharry, head of Americas Voice, took pains to emphasize, there is a Latino swing-vote within the Latino swing-vote. Foreign-born, naturalized U.S. citizens of Latino descent, who represent 40 percent of the Latino population has proven to be a true swing constituency, the report said. Additionally, the report noted that only 25 percent of foreign-born Latinos voted for Sen. McCain, while 75 percent of foreign-born Latinos voted for Obama.

Obama, despite the support he received from Latinos, or perhaps because of it, is also coming under pressure to move on immigration reform.

We would want him to be much more aggressive than he has been, Medina said of Obamas efforts on pushing immigration reform, adding, We absolutely insist that he deliver on immigration reform in 2010.

Frank Sharry said, We were disappointed by the scant reference to immigration reform in the Presidents State of the Union address, Even so, he said he was optimistic because we see daily activity on the inside, including efforts by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to forge a bipartisan bill in the Senate and Rep. Luis Gutierrezs bill in the House. Sharry said the prospect for an immigration reform bill being crafted for the Presidents signature this year is still alive; were not prepared to give up.

Medina, Murguia, and Sharry were also questioned as to whether the growing anti-immigrant tone within the Tea Party movement would be embraced by the Republican Party.

Murguia said the Latino community has reason to be concerned about the growing anti-Latino elementin recent Tea Party activities and statements, but cautioned that Democratic candidates should be wary of taking the Latino vote for granted. Medina and Sharry concurred. Yet, the report argues that it is the Republican Party which has to figure out how to define itself, relative to the Latino vote.

Failure to change their brand on immigration, however, the report said of the Republican Party, will mean an increasing number of Congressional seats, statewide races, and entire segments of the Electoral College become out of reach for the GOP overnight.

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