Wave Of New Citizens Could Prove Immigrant Clout At The Polls

Wave of new citizens could prove immigrants' clout at the polls

By Susan Ferriss
The Sacramento Bee (CA), November 2, 2008

Sacramento, CA — Outside most naturalization ceremonies, Democratic and Republican party activists wait at tables for the new citizens to emerge.

They compete for the allegiance of these new Americans _ an allegiance that could be tested at the polls on Tuesday.

Swept up in election-year fever, a large wave of new citizens could go to the polls and prove immigrants' growing electoral clout.

In California, more than 298,000 new citizens were sworn in this year, up 39 percent from about 182,000 naturalizations last year. That surge is adding to a growing Latino electorate here, as have similar registration efforts in such swing states as Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.

Among the new citizens eager to vote is Anibal Luna, a 38-year-old Sacramentan who runs his own tax business and registered to vote immediately after he was sworn in during a ceremony in June at Memorial Auditorium.

'Like it or not, our community is growing in California,' Luna said. 'As soon as I was registered to vote, I turned around and started registering other new citizens to vote.'

Mark DiCamillo, director of the California Field Poll, said new Americans are undoubtedly part of the mix of a record 17.3 million registered to vote in Tuesday's election.

Voter registration drives, partisan and nonpartisan, targeting immigrants 'may have proven successful,' DiCamillo said. 'The question now is: Will they vote?'

Latinos make up the majority of new citizens in many states, and they tend to register as Democrats more often than as Republicans.

About 64 percent of California's likely Latino voters are Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The institute also estimated that, at last count, Latinos constitute about 15 percent of the state's electorate.

Immigrant clout may be even greater, however, when children of immigrants are counted, according to a report released last month by the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center.

By 2006, that study found, more than 24 percent of California's registered voters were 'new Americans' _ those who are naturalized citizens or children born after 1965 to at least one immigrant parent.

Luna, a first-time, first-generation voter, said he intends to vote for Barack Obama, the Democratic Party contender for president. Since becoming a citizen, Luna also has become a party activist, taking part in a new local Latino Democratic club.

He maintains that the recent economic strain, along with past attacks by Republican Party figures, have persuaded many Latino immigrants he knows to register as Democrats.

'Many of our people were involved in the construction industry, and it has suffered,' Luna said.

Silvia Landers, who met Luna when she registered him, said she has registered hundreds _ at one event, more than 500 – of new citizens at a time after naturalization ceremonies in Sacramento.

Landers, reached in Florida last week where she is working on voter outreach, said, 'I say, 'It's not just about getting your papers or your documents. It's what you can do for your country.''

Carl Burton, Sacramento County GOP vice chairman, said he also has recruited new citizens at naturalization ceremonies. His Republicans of River City Web site features photos of new citizens registering and a volunteer holding a sign that says, 'Republicans, register here' in Spanish.

Burton said he signed up 103 people at a one recent ceremony – a rate that, he acknowledged, probably didn't equal the Democrats' gain.

'I would be foolish to say we don't need to do more work, and to get out our message more,' he said.

Miryam Mora, 26, is a new citizen the GOP did succeed in recruiting. She became a citizen in March.

The fiancee of California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas, Mora has taken a leave from her job at an organ donation group to campaign in Nevada – and turn out Latino voters – for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Part of Mora's attraction to McCain was his past support for legalizing undocumented immigrants. She said GOP figures who have bashed immigrants 'don't truly represent the majority' in the party.

She also said a new generation of Republican supporters like the GOP's philosophy of fiscal conservatism.

'There's a big movement behind the scenes,' Mora said, 'that might surprise Democrats in five years or so.'


Some NJ immigrant voters remain undecided
By Samantha Henry
The Associated Press, October 31, 2008

Newark, NJ (AP) — Immigration reform may have been a toxic issue on the campaign trail, but many immigrant voters are still weighing where the candidates stand on the issue and how effectively they've reached out to their communities.

Although New Jersey leans Democratic, several immigrant groups represent a high percentage of undecided voters. And Hispanic voters here _ including both immigrants and nonimmigrants _ represent a wide variety of political opinions, from the Republican-leaning Cuban stronghold of Union City to large numbers of Latinos who supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries.

However, polls show New Jersey's 1.4 million Hispanics _ 588,000 of whom are registered to vote _ largely mirror the state's Democratic leanings.

Although the Pew survey finds that more than three-quarters of Hispanics nationwide who supported Clinton in the primaries now say they are inclined to vote for Obama, some Hispanic leaders in the Garden State say enthusiasm for Clinton has not automatically translated into a vote for Obama.

'Hillary and her husband, (former President) Bill Clinton, had a great relationship with Latinos for years, especially in New Jersey,' said Romi Herrera, a one-time Clinton supporter who sees some undecided Hispanics leaning toward McCain. 'Obama doesn't have that, and hasn't been working on it, especially in New Jersey.'

Herrera discounted racism as a factor influencing the Hispanic vote, saying concerns about the economy and McCain's very public support for immigration reform, combined with a lack of the kind of overt ethnically tailored campaign appeals that resonate with many Hispanics, are leaving many voters undecided.

'We have a woman, an African American, and a pro-immigrant Republican candidate, these are all unique factors, so the Latino voter has to really think hard about this,' Herrera said.

'And the Latino community is not a monolith, we have very different ways of thinking about things,' he added. 'Not everyone has the same education levels, some are from Socialist-leaning countries, some are conservative. We have different cultures, it's really complex, so I don't think we'll act as one voice.'

Samer Khalaf, co-chair of the New Jersey Arab-American Democratic Caucus and an alternate convention delegate for Obama, said a similar divide is taking place among Arab-Americans, many of whom are socially and religiously conservative but highly concerned about civil rights.

'Nationwide, we've always been very entrepreneurial, so we vote business and economic issues,' Khalaf said. 'And a lot of our community is very conservative, both Christian and Muslim, so they tend to vote Republican.'

Khalaf said the tide of support for George W. Bush among Arab-Americans during his first run for office shifted dramatically due to his support for The Patriot Act, the use of secret evidence in trials, and other issues that disproportionately impacted the Arab-American community.

'If they're going to vote foreign policy and civil rights, they'll vote Democrat,' Khalaf said of Arab-Americans. 'Take those two issues out of the picture, and they'll fall back on social issues and economics, and they'll vote Republican.'

There is also enduring support for perpetual presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Nader has long been a favorite of Arab-Americans.

A recent nationwide survey of Asian-American voters found they have one of the highest percentages of undecided voters of any immigrant group.

Jane Junn, an associate professor of political science at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University who worked on the survey, said 34 percent of Asian-Americans nationwide remain undecided, a much higher rate that the national average.

Junn said Asian-American voters in New Jersey favor Obama 37 percent over McCain's 18 percent, but 45 percent of those who are likely voters are undecided.

'What that means is both political parties have a tremendous possibility to bring them in,' Junn said.


Latino surge portends power
Registration rise suggests potential
By Kristin Collins and Marti Maguire
The News & Observer (Raleigh), November 2, 2008

Choosing Sides: Mexicans weigh in on U.S. election
By Laura Tillman
The Brownsville Herald (Texas), November 3, 2008

Campaigns make final push to court Latino voters
By Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press, November 1, 2008