The Latino Vote and the Fall Campaign

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Through the summer, marches favoring rights for illegal immigrants emphasized the importance of registering Latino voters. Is the impact of that work being felt this campaign season? Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University, talks with Farai Chideya.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES, I'm Farai Chideya.

Latinos and supporters marched in the streets earlier this year for reformed immigration laws. But it's been tough to register more Latino voters to make a difference in who decides immigration policy. Joining me now from member station WLIU in South Hampton is Marcello Suarez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education and co-director of immigration studies at New York University. Welcome.

Mr. MARCELO SUAREZ-OROZCO (Immigration Studies, New York University): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So rally organizers during that wave of immigration protests had a goal of registering 1 million voters by 2008. Is that too ambitious or not ambitious enough?

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, if you look at the members, it may be not ambitious enough. Today, there are 17 million Hispanics, Latinos, who are U.S. citizens who are over the age of 18 and thus can vote in the November election. The issue is - the best estimates suggest that only about 10, maybe 10 to 12 million will be registered to vote by November, which means that there are 7 million folk who should be registering, who should be voting, who may not.

CHIDEYA: Why do you think that is?

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, there are many barriers. It's important to keep in mind that the greatest share of the Latino vote now, is native-born. In other words, these are not immigrants or newly national…

CHIDEYA: Nationalized citizens, yeah.

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: They're rather - rather, they are U.S. citizens who are born in our country. I think it is the process of socializing Latinos into the political culture. There is the issue of - there are language issues still, even in the second generation. But I think most importantly, really the opportunity to engage our citizens into making their voices heard and their votes count.

CHIDEYA: Now in the Asian-American communities and the Hispanic or Latino-American communities, you have a lot more immigrants who are not naturalized, as compared to blacks or whites. Is there also an effort to get people to naturalize in order to be eligible to vote?

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Yes, indeed, and if you look at the whole picture, there are now over 40 million Latinos in the United States. While most of them are U.S. citizens, there are still significant numbers that (unintelligible) naturalization - can then be registered to vote. So I think that there is another effort there to try to help people naturalize - those of us who have been in our country for over a certain period of time and who pass the tests and the like - so they, too, can become voters.

CHIDEYA: Finally, what do you think the most important appeals are to Latino voters or potential voters to go out and vote. Obviously, immigration is a big issue, but what other sorts of issues resonate with Latino voters?

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Well, Latino voters are not from the other side of the moon. They share a lot of ambitions and dreams and expectations of all U.S. citizens. Jobs, I think, is an issue that is very, very high up. Education is an issue that Latinos tend to be very, very concerned - because the enduring achievement gap between the Latino origin population and the mainstream population. I think immigration is an issue, of course, given that some 40 percent of all Latinos are, you know, of immigrant background. So that is an issue. I think the war in Iraq continues to be an issue. Security issues. Crime is an issue for Latino voters. So in many fundamental ways, Latinos in fact have, you know, fit in the whole range of Republican to Democratic ambitions and expectations here. Keep in mind that in the last election, 40 percent of Latinos voted for President Bush.

CHIDEYA: Well, I'm sure the politicians will be out courting the Latino vote, and we'll talk to you more about this soon. Thanks, Marcello.

Mr. SUAREZ-OROZCO: My pleasure, thank you.

CHIDEYA: Marcello Suarez-Orozco is professor of globalization and education and co-director, immigration studies at New York University. He's also a regular contributor to our Roundtable, which we proceed right along to.

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