His­panic vote no longer cuts along party lines

Bor­der surge mud­dies im­mi­gra­tion pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates un­veiled a cam­paign bill­board in North Carolina on Thurs­day at­tack­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Kay R. Ha­gan for be­ing too strict on il­le­gal im­mi­grants, rais­ing ques­tions of how His­panic vot­ers will ap­proach this year’s elec­tions.

Though Ms. Ha­gan voted last year for the Se­nate bill that would have le­gal­ized most il­le­gal im­mi­grants, the North Carolina Dream Team, a group of “dream­ers,” young adult im­mi­grants who were brought to the coun­try il­le­gally, said the rest of her record makes her un­wor­thy of His­panic votes.

“A vote to keep up ap­pear­ances is one thing, but those of us that have been ad­vo­cat­ing for sev­eral years now, we know bet­ter,” said Virid­i­ana Martinez, an or­ga­nizer. “Sen. Ha­gan is an anti-im­mi­grant se­na­tor. She is as ‘anti-’ as they come.”

Ms. Ha­gan re­futed the at­tack and called on “all my friends in the com­mu­nity to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence” be­tween her­self and Repub­li­can op­po­nent Thom Til­lis.

Although Ms. Ha­gan de­nies be­ing too strict on im­mi­gra­tion, other Democrats in South­ern states are em­brac­ing tough ap­proaches and run­ning ads ac­cus­ing their Repub­li­can op­po­nents of be­ing too soft on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion — sug­gest­ing just how mud­died im­mi­gra­tion pol­i­tics has be­come.

A year ago, polling sug­gested that the pub­lic was shift­ing to­ward more le­niency, plac­ing le­gal­iza­tion as a higher pri­or­ity than bor­der se­cu­rity. Repub­li­cans were scram­bling to catch up to Democrats, most of whom em­braced le­gal­iza­tion and en­joyed elec­toral gains among His­panic vot­ers for that support.

But a surge of il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren this year, com­bined with Pres­i­dent Obama’s prom­ises of uni­lat­eral ac­tion grant­ing ten­ta­tive le­gal sta­tus to more il­le­gal im­mi­grants, have clouded the pol­i­tics — par­tic­u­larly for His­pan­ics who see im­mi­gra­tion as a thresh­old is­sue to earn their votes.

The His­panic vote is get­ting less at­ten­tion than it does in pres­i­den­tial elec­tion years be­cause there aren’t many Se­nate races in play in states with large His­panic pop­u­la­tions.

One state that is get­ting at­ten­tion is Colorado, where ac­tivists said they have regis­tered more than 30,000 His­panic vot­ers this year alone.

In Ge­or­gia, the His­panic pop­u­la­tion has surged to a point where more than 200,000 of them might be vot­ing.

The Al­liance for Cit­i­zen­ship, which ad­vo­cates His­panic vot­ing, said nei­ther party has made an in­vest­ment “in gen­uinely en­gag­ing Latino vot­ers,” but it pre­dicted that His­pan­ics will show up at polls to pun­ish those who pre­vented a le­gal­iza­tion bill from pass­ing in Congress — which means the GOP.

“This move­ment un­der­stands that this elec­tion is about demon­strat­ing its grow­ing po­lit­i­cal power,” the al­liance said.

Daniel Garza, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Li­bre Ini­tia­tive, said he ex­pects some Repub­li­can can­di­dates to do well among His­pan­ics next month — a vin­di­ca­tion for those who have en­gaged with the com­mu­nity.

“He or she who con­trols the con­ver­sa­tion will be re­warded with the vote, and that’s what con­ser­va­tives have not done well in the past,” said Mr. Garza, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion is try­ing to in­ject a voice for free mar­kets into the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion among His­pan­ics. “I think what we’re see­ing in this elec­tion cy­cle is there is a new con­ver­sa­tion.”

Even with less at­ten­tion on His­pan­ics this elec­tion year, Mr. Garza said, there are plenty of rea­sons to watch how they vote.

If Greg Ab­bott, a Repub­li­can, can gar­ner 50 per­cent of the His­panic vote in his quest for Texas’ gov­er­nor­ship, it will doom Democrats’ vow of mak­ing the state com­pet­i­tive in the near fu­ture, Mr. Garza said. The lat­est polling shows Mr. Ab­bott nearly tied among His­pan­ics.

His­panic Repub­li­can can­di­dates are poised to add to their num­bers in the House, Mr. Garza said, and Repub­li­cans are look­ing to flip con­trol of state­house cham­bers in New Mex­ico and Colorado — states with large His­panic pop­u­la­tions.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Latino Elected and Ap­pointed Of­fi­cials es­ti­mates that 7.8 mil­lion His­pan­ics will vote in this year’s elec­tions, up 1.2 mil­lion from the midterm elec­tions in 2010.

North Carolina is one place where His­pan­ics are viewed as in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to statewide elec­tions, which is why Ms. Ha­gan’s im­mi­gra­tion record is un­der scru­tiny.

Ms. Martinez, the or­ga­nizer for the team that posted the bill­board at­tacks, said she

“He or she who con­trols the con­ver­sa­tion will be re­warded with the vote, and that’s what con­ser­va­tives have not done well in the past. I think what we’re see­ing in this elec­tion cy­cle is there is a new con­ver­sa­tion.”

— Daniel Garza, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Li­bre Ini­tia­tive

wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily tell vot­ers to back Mr. Til­lis, but she wants them to know Ms. Ha­gan’s back­ground, which in­cludes sup­port­ing a state law that blocks il­le­gal im­mi­grants from get­ting driver’s li­censes and in­cludes a vote this year against con­tin­u­ing Mr. Obama’s non­de­por­ta­tion pol­icy for dream­ers.

“Ha­gan has a record of be­ing anti-im­mi­grant. Til­lis doesn’t have any­thing,” she said. “Now I’m not say­ing that Til­lis, we fully trust Til­lis — by no means. I think any per­son that’s elected needs to be held ac­count­able.”

Ms. Martinez said she knows many vot­ers from mixed-sta­tus fam­i­lies — with at least one mem­ber in the coun­try with­out au­tho­riza­tion — who prob­a­bly will sit out the Se­nate elec­tion.

At a cam­paign stop Thurs­day, Ms. Ha­gan said her record is bet­ter than Mr. Til­lis’. She pointed to her vote last year in fa­vor of the Se­nate im­mi­gra­tion bill, writ­ten by the bi­par­ti­san Gang of Eight, which would have granted even­tual cit­i­zen­ship rights to most il­le­gal im­mi­grants, boosted le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and spent tens of mil­lions of dol­lars hir­ing more Bor­der Pa­trol agents and build­ing more fenc­ing.

“I have sup­ported a common-sense bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion bill. I think that’s what we need,” Ms. Ha­gan told re­porters.

She ac­cused Mr. Til­lis of talk­ing only about bor­der se­cu­rity, which she said doesn’t solve the prob­lem.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Though Sen. Kay Ha­gan, North Carolina Demo­crat, voted last year for the Se­nate bill that would have le­gal­ized most il­le­gal im­mi­grants, the North Carolina Dream Team, a group of “dream­ers,” young adult im­mi­grants who were brought to the coun­try il­le­gally, said the rest of her record makes her un­wor­thy of His­panic votes.

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