Issues with anti-immigration laws deter Latino voters
The number of Latino voters is falling, and some say anti-immigration legislation is mostly to blame.
Despite an increase in eligible voters within the country’s largest minority group, the voting turnout rate for Latinos continues to fall behind that of whites and blacks, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
The study shows that 50 percent of Latinos eligible to vote did in fact vote in the 2008 election compared to 65 percent of black voters and 66 percent of white voters. From 2008 to 2010, the amount of registered Latino voters also decreased by about 600,000, according to the study.
Anna Ochoa O’Leary, a Mexican American studies professor, said that a person’s income, age and education influences voting behavior and should be taken into account when deliberating the gap between eligible Latino voters and Latino voter turnout.
Today’s hostile, anti-immigration discourse in the country has given people a negative perception about the Latino population, O’Leary said, adding that people think Latinos vote in lower numbers because they are Latino, instead of thinking past that and considering that Latinos in the U.S. are a younger population, a poorer population and one in which a majority of students attend low-quality, under-funded schools.
“There’s this tendency to look at primarily Latino populations or Mexican populations as not quite as American as other populations,” O’Leary said.
Laws such as Proposition 200, which requires Arizonans to present proof of citizenship at the polls, cause Latinos to feel unwelcome, O’Leary added. Mistakes like the one Maricopa County made this year by printing the wrong election date on some of the Spanish ballots, also produced anxiety for Latinos, and not just those who are here illegally, she said.
“It’s not just an imagined perception that somehow, as Latinos, we don’t quite belong, we are not quite as welcome,” O’Leary said. “Every time you have any type of legislation proposed that is anti-immigrant, Latinos begin to feel discriminated [against].”
O’Leary also said some Latinos might feel divided between certain views each politician holds. Many Latinos are pro-life Catholics and find Romney’s beliefs appealing, some are disappointed at Obama’s administration because of the increase of deportations and some find Obama’s push to pass the DREAM Act appealing, she said.
“When there’s a lot of pressure on Latino families … one response might be ‘I really don’t care anymore, I just want to live my life and not be concerned with making choices,’” O’Leary said.
Omar Vasquez, a UA law student and Student Bar Association representative in the executive board of the Latino Law Student Association, disagreed with O’Leary and said he is skeptical of the idea that most Catholics are pro-life or that the pro-life issue alone is important enough to determine their vote.
Issues such as the DREAM Act, immigration reform as well as the economy are more important issues in this election, Vasquez added. Ignorance and apathy of these issues as well as lack of enthusiasm, Vasquez said, is what he believes keeps people from voting.
“They perceive that there will be no impact regardless of which party wins,” he said. “Their day-to-day life will be not something to be changed.”
Javier Lagarda, a business senior, agreed that apathy is keeping people out of polling booths and said that Latinos who are eligible to vote complain about the government yet don’t do anything to change it.
“I really don’t find a reason,” Lagarda said. “I believe in that idea that a majority of the younger population is lazy and the older population is just satisfied.”
While the gap between eligible voters and voter turnout has historically been larger for the Latino population, Lagarda, Vasquez and O’Leary said they believe the gap will close over time. With the Latino population continues to grow, Vasquez said he expects an increase in Latino voter turnout in the 2012 election and in future elections.
“Something everybody can do is encourage everybody around us to vote and make sure they’re voting,” Vasquez said.