LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Presidential primary politics in this country heat up Tuesday with contests in Rhode Island, Vermont, Ohio and Texas.
In the Lone Star State, Democratic contender Hillary Clinton is banking on the Hispanic vote to give her an edge against rival Barack Obama. The latest polls show Clinton holding strong among Hispanics in Texas.
Watching the Hispanic vote closely is Reverend Luis Cortes. He's one of the country's most influential evangelicals. He's president of the faith-based group Esperanza USA, representing some 10,000 Hispanic churches and community groups. Welcome to the program, Reverend Cortes.
Mr. LUIS CORTES (President, Esperanza USA): Well, thank you.
HANSEN: In Texas what are you hearing about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's support among the Hispanics?
Mr. CORTES: Well, I think among Hispanic evangelicals who are Democrats, the Clinton support is stronger and it's mostly, I believe, because she's better known. She has participated over the years in Latino faith events and has been present and has shared her story. And obviously as first lady she had contact with our leadership and with leadership around the faith community.
So she is a known person. I was just in San Antonio this past week for the Southern Baptist church meetings. And among the clergy, they spoke highly of Obama's speeches but they have not had an opportunity to have contact and to hear some of their issues raised or their issues and concerns addressed.
HANSEN: How is Senator John McCain doing?
Mr. CORTES: I think McCain has done very well. Anyone who has reviewed polls or if you look at the Pew Hispanic Center, McCain did very, very, very well among other Latino voters and Latino evangelical voters. He was the only Republican that had a family values position on immigration. And as such, he did very, very well.
HANSEN: Are you perceiving a split among Hispanic voters between younger people and older ones?
Mr. CORTES: Actually, there is some of that. A lot of the younger people who are getting involved for the first time are hearing Obama's speeches. And his speeches are pushing people to think about the larger American democracy project. And, as such, he's gathering a lot of young Latinos to move his way. And then folks who have been involved in the past, they hear the speeches but the thought patterns are, okay, we like what we hear, but what is the substance, what are the issues, what are the policies behind the call to a greater America?
HANSEN: One important issue is the immigration debate. What's your position on that immigration debate, and how much will that issue come to play in this election?
Mr. CORTES: The immigration issue for the Latino community is the most important issue. And as the process winds itself down to two candidates, it will be interesting to see how much they're willing or unwilling to raise the issue because of how it might actually hurt them with some voters who have very strong anti-immigration positions.
All of the candidates who are currently running have a similar position on immigration. I think, Liane, people need to recognize this. If we use the numbers that we get from Pew Trust, there's 42 million Latinos in the United States and there are eight million undocumented Latinos in the United States, which means almost one out of every five Latinos is undocumented. And what people don't recognize is most of those undocumented people are related to the documented. So for us, it is family. So it is very intense and it is very focused in the Hispanic community, the immigration conversation.
And the last thing I'll say: it's not just a Republican issue. The Republicans have been very hard on us with their rhetoric. But we also have issues with the Democrats, who traditionally cut the number of visas to appease the AFL-CIO and other union and labor groups. And so it is a very complex issue, but it is one that needs to be addressed by whoever becomes the president as we move forward.
HANSEN: Reverend Luis Cortes is president of the faith-based group Esperanza USA. It represents some 10,000 Hispanic churches and community groups. Thank you so much.
Mr. CORTES: Oh, thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.