Jose Miguel Barboza can’t vote because he is undocumented, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting civically engaged. The 23-year-old has dedicated much of his time over the last few years registering Latinos to vote and convincing them that their votes matter.
Lately, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric have been helping those efforts, Barboza said.
“There are people who come to me and say, ‘I don’t want this guy talking bad about my family,’” he said. “I tell them, ‘Let's do something about it, and get you registered to vote so you can have a voice in November.’”
Barboza is an organizer for one of several groups that are working to register thousands of new Latino voters across the state.
He joined a group of political experts at an event hosted by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this week to discuss the impact Latino voters could have in this year’s presidential election.
The experts agreed that Trump, who labeled Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals in his campaign announcement speech, is galvanizing Latinos in Arizona to vote. And community organizers are taking advantage of that momentum.
“We see it as an opportunity to mobilize,” said Ian Danley, director of One Arizona, a coalition working to increase civic participation primarily among Latinos.
Danley said he sees more Latinos applying to become U.S. citizens than ever before mainly because they want to vote and prevent Trump from getting elected president. He noted naturalization workshops held by groups like Mi Familia Vota are drawing large crowds of Latinos.
If the trend continues, Latinos could have a record turnout in Arizona this November. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) predicts that’ll be the case. The group projects 433,000 Latinos will turn out to vote in Arizona this year, up from 400,000 in 2012. It also estimates Latinos make up 17 percent of the state’s registered voters.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, said he’s not surprised that Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is mobilizing Latinos in Arizona, given how Latinos reacted when the state approved Senate Bill 1070. The passage of the infamous immigration law led to massive voter-registration efforts that resulted in tens of thousands of new Latino voters.
Thousands of Latino voters also were added to the permanent early-voting list, which allows them to vote via mail and increases the likelihood that they’ll vote. According to One Arizona, there were 90,000 Latinos on the list in 2010. Now there are 300,000.
These voter-registration efforts have resulted in a number of victories for Latinos in Arizona. For example, Latinos played a critical role in ousting former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who authored SB 1070, in a recall election.
However, Latinos still face some adversity in Arizona, Vargas said. He pointed to the long lines seen last week at polling places located in predominately Hispanic neighborhoods.
Vargas said it’s incumbent upon Latino leaders in Arizona to use these “moments of adversity” to continue mobilizing Latino voters and in the long term create a culture of voting among Latinos in the state.
“You in Arizona have the opportunity right now to do that,” he said. “The whole Latino community across the country knows what you’ve undergone here in Arizona. This can be a moment to turn that around.”
He pointed to what happened in California, when the state approved a measure — known as Proposition 187 — that sought to deny a host of public services to undocumented immigrants and was pushed by Republicans.
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Civic participation and voter participation among Latinos that followed the passage of the measure, later found unconstitutional by the courts, helped turn California from a Republican stronghold to a strongly Democratic state.
Joseph Garcia, director of the Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University, said that like California, Arizona is destined to become a much less Republican-dominated state as more Latinos become eligible to vote.
He pointed to research that shows that nearly 99 percent of Latino children in Arizona ages 4 and under were U.S. citizens in 2010. By 2030, these same children will be of voting age and many will likely vote Democrat given that polls show Latinos regularly shown a preference for the Democratic Party. Also by the year 2030, 35 percent of Arizona residents over the age of 19 will be Latino.