Latino leaders on Thursday pointed to the controversial Proposition 187, a ballot measure California voters approved 20 years ago, to show the political impact Latinos can have if they turn out to vote.
Proposition 187 sought to bar undocumented immigrants from benefiting from a number of public services, such as access to health care and schools. Opponents of the measure perceived it as discriminatory and directed primarily at Latinos and immigrants.
The Latino Victory Foundation brought together about a dozen local and national Latino leaders in Arizona on Thursday to highlight how Proposition 187 galvanized an unprecedented number of Latinos to become citizens and register to vote.
Henry Muñoz III, co-founder of the Latino Victory Foundation, said the gathering in Arizona served as an opportunity to look back at what was done in California to mobilize Latino voters in light of the passage of Proposition 187.
I think that moment in the history of California teaches us as a community that it is up to ourselves to lead ourselves and to organize ourselves and to speak truth to powerand that begins by voting, Muñoz said in an interview with VOXXI.
The numbers show theres plenty of work to do to get more Latinos to vote and participate in the political process. According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 24 million Latinos were eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election but less than half actually voted.
With the midterm elections less than a month away, Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Foundation, said he hopes Latinos will reflect on the political changes that occurred in California due to Latinos becoming more engaged in the political process.
The reason why California changed was because Latinos and immigrants didnt sit out of the elections after Prop. 187 passed, Alex told VOXXI. They didnt boycott the elections. They didnt throw away their votes. Instead, they made sure their voices were heard, and so were coming close to November 4 when people will have to make sure that their voices are heard.
During Thursdays gathering, the Latino leaders also drew parallels between Californias Proposition 187 and current laws that they perceive as being anti-immigrant. One of the laws they pointed to was SB 1070, an Arizona law approved in 2010 that allows police officers to question the immigration status of those they believe are undocumented.
They noted that like with Proposition 187 in California, SB 1070 resulted in a coalition of groups coming together in Arizona to mobilize Latino voters. They said the efforts by these groups have resulted in a significant increase in the number of Latinos who are registering and turning out to vote.
The Latino leaders also pointed to Oregon as one of the most recent examples where they say an anti-immigrant campaign is taking place. The campaign revolves around a ballot initiative, known as Measure 88, that asks voters to decided whether or not to implement a law signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber last year that would grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants.
If the measure is approved, undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for a four-year drivers card. The card cannot be used to vote, as identification for air travel or to get government benefits.
Andrea Miller, executive director of Causa, said her group is urging voters to approve the measure so that all Oregon residents, regardless of their immigration status, can carry out their basic needs, like drive to work or take their children to school.
Millers group is part of a broad coalition of organizations that are engaged in a fully bilingual campaign to advocate for Measure 88. Miller said the measure would especially benefit Latinos who live in mixed immigration status families.
This not only impacts undocumented mothers and fathers, she said at Thursdays gathering. It impacts their children. It impacts their families.
The Latino leaders noted that besides Oregon, there are other states where anti-immigrant efforts are taking place and where legislators are trying to pass laws that target the nations growing Latino population.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, referred to these laws as boomerang laws that will come back and hurt politicians supporting them in the long run. He added that he and other Latino leaders plan to use these laws to motivate Latinos to vote in the midterm elections.
We as a community will step forward and accelerate our involvement and accelerate our civic participation to change politics, not just in California, not just in Arizona but across the country, Saenz said at Thursdays gathering.
Also present at Thursdays gathering were Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association; Hector Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council For Latin American Advancement (LCLAA); and John Loredo, director of the Arizona Donor Collaborative.