Prominent Latino leaders, including a U.S. Congressman from Arizona, are stumping for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in an effort to build support among minorities.
Tucson U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva joined Nevada congressional candidate Lucy Flores and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a Cook County commissioner in Chicago, on a conference call recruiting Latino volunteers — particularly those who speak Spanish — to spread the word about Sanders’ campaign in Arizona.
Less than two weeks before the crucial Iowa caucuses, Sanders is gaining on front-runner Hillary Clinton. Thirty-seven percent of Democratic primary voters nationwide support Sanders while 52 percent support Clinton, according to a Monmouth University poll released this week. But when it comes to rapport among Latinos, Hillary still is firmly in the lead: 71-21.
Part of the problem, according to Grijalva, the first member of Congress to throw his support behind Sanders, is that Latino voters aren’t familiar with Sanders and his platform (That claim is supported by a recent Noticias Univision poll that showed 68 percent of Latino Democratic voters either didn’t know Sanders or hadn’t yet formed an opinion about him.).
Although Latinos are the fastest growing demographic group in the country and, therefore, wield growing political clout, they historically have had poor civic participation. In 2012, fewer than half of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared to 64 percent of Caucasians and 67 percent of African Americans, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
“The role for the Latino community is not to be left watching on the sideline,” Grijalva said. “The role for the Latino community is to be driving change.”
Sanders’ campaign, he said, is "nurturing a new crop of Latino leadership.”
Sanders already has brought a number of influential Arizona Latinos on board, including Erika Andiola, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant who captured the nation’s attention in 2013 with a tearful YouTube video describing her parents' deportation proceedings. Andiola serves as Sanders’ Latino outreach strategist for the Southwest.
Last week, the presidential candidate announced a Latino Outreach Program internship.
Representative Flores, a first-generation American, said she endorsed Sanders because his message “resonates with me as a person.” She dropped out of high school at 15 and got tangled in the juvenile justice system before a parole officer helped her to turn her life around. She later earned her GED, graduated from law school, and became the first Latina to serve in the Nevada Legislature.
“There used to be a time where you could break the cycle of poverty, but we are becoming less and less that country,” she said. “Bernie is the only person I’ve seen making it a priority to get back to the point where everyday people can better themselves in college without saddling themselves with debt — and can actually make it up that ladder to achieve the American dream.”
Commissioner Garcia, an immigrant from Mexico, said it was Sanders' plan to address economic inequality, immigration, and unemployment among the nation’s youth that won him over.
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Sanders supports comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to legal residency or citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. He has vowed to shut down privately run immigrant-detention centers and is against building a fence along the Mexico border.
To address issues of economic inequality, Sanders has proposed expanding the social safety net, closing tax loopholes that only benefit the rich, and reforming the criminal justice system.
One sign of his commitment to his values, Garcia said, is his approach to the campaign.
“If you want to dismantle inequality and create opportunity for prosperity for ordinary working people, you have to remove big money from politics,” he said. “Bernie has already received so much grassroots support from ordinary people that he’s rivaling political action committees. He’s showing a different path to achieving real change in America.”