Why One Latino Group Is Chasing High Schoolers Ahead Of 2016 There are more than 25 million Latinos eligible to vote, and that number is growing quickly. The bulk of that growth is not from new immigration, but rather from Latino teens turning 18.

Why One Latino Group Is Chasing High Schoolers Ahead Of 2016

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There are more than 25 million Latinos eligible to vote in the United States, and that number is only growing. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Latinos turn 18. So, of course, there is a drive to turn all of this into real political power, as NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: At Colonial High School on Orlando's east side, more than 80 percent of students are Latino.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KHALID: In Florida, you can preregister to vote at 16 or 17, which is why groups like the nonpartisan but left-leaning Mi Familia Vota are working in high schools. On this day, they're encouraging students to sign up to vote during lunch. Emelyn Mendez did and I asked her why. She gave me a simple answer.

EMELYN MENDEZ: So I can have a say in what happens in the government.

MAIRY REYES: (Through interpreter) Our vote is our voice, and it's very important to use that right.

KHALID: That's Mairy Reyes. In addition to the lunchtime registration drives, Mi Familia Vota often goes into classrooms, like this Spanish class, to teach kids about the importance of voting.

REYES: (Through interpreter) All of us are Hispanic and we are aware of what's happening in our community. This is the most important election this country has ever had.

KHALID: How the candidates and their campaigns talk about Latinos is important to many of these first-time voters, like Yaisha Hernandez. Her family is from Puerto Rico. They can vote, but they just don't. Hernandez says she learned about voting here in high school.

YAISHA HERNANDEZ: In my AP government class we've been talking about the elections. And I wanted to, like, have a voice because of Donald Trump talking against Hispanics and all that.

KHALID: Like a lot of other young people, Hernandez is also worried about affordable college. She wants to study music education and wants a candidate who will make getting a bachelor's degree cheaper. Another student in the class, Neil Rios, says he signed up to vote because of his identity.

NEIL RIOS: I'm Hispanic. I'm homosexual. So I - when I vote I speak up for my group.

KHALID: Rios is now helping sign up other students, and he says for him immigration reform is important and it's personal. His grandpa moved to the country illegally. Now his family owns a landscaping company.

RIOS: There's so many workers who want to work with my mom. But the only thing that stops them from being hired is that they're illegal. They're not documented. And if we hire them then that puts our business in, you know, in risk.

KHALID: Part of the benefit of encouraging high schoolers like Rios to vote is that it has the potential to energize an entire family.

RIOS: My mom personally had the perspective of, oh, why should I vote? It's stupid. It's not worth my time.

KHALID: But Rios says after he learned about voting in school he convinced his mom.

RIOS: She actually listened to me. And she registered to vote. And this is her first time voting ever.

KHALID: Education, discrimination and immigration are common themes in this age group. And what's on their mind could be important for years to come because Mark Hugo Lopez with the Pew Research Center says the Hispanic electorate is growing quickly.

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: It's seen an additional 800,000 young Hispanics enter adulthood every year. And that's going to continue to be the case for the next two decades.

KHALID: Young Latinos have enormous potential to affect elections down the road. But Lopez says right now these young Latinos have among the lowest voter turnout rate. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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