Washington : The immigration issue has been relegated to the back burner during the last phase of the US presidential campaign, but the hostile climate against immigrants motivated millions of Hispanic voters to head to the polls Tuesday, EFE news agency reported..
The deportation of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants and the determined war of attrition launched by the Department of Homeland Security against them in their homes and workplaces has increased the repudiation of the government’s policy by pro-immigrant groups.
That condemnation, in turn, has translated into an unprecedented increase in citizenship applications and voter registration by approximately one million new immigrant voters.
It is calculated that this year, Hispanic voters will total at least nine million, of whom 2.6 million will be voting for the first time in this country, or possibly anywhere.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, a Spanish-language guide put out by the Club Hispano Democrata notes that voting is the only way for each naturalized immigrant to make his or her voice heard in the democratic process.
“We have already marched. Now we’re going to vote on Tuesday, Nov 4!” declares a pamphlet distributed to Hispanic households, alluding to the huge street demonstrations during spring 2006 to demand immigration reform.
Then, the Hispanic vote was a key to the defeat of Republican candidates opposed to the legalization of undocumented foreigners, and it helped the Democratic opposition retake control of the US Congress.
A survey released Tuesday jointly by Univision, Reuters and Zogby said that 78 percent of Latinos support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, while 13 percent support Republican John McCain.
According to the survey, which was conducted from Oct 30-Nov 2, the economy and jobs were the most important issues for 54 percent of Hispanics, well ahead of those citing health care or immigration.
The 45 million Hispanics in the United States make up 15 percent of the population and, although they comprise only nine percent of the electorate, their votes will be – election forecasts say – decisive in Florida and western states such as Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
The results of the survey did not surprise analysts or pro-immigrant groups who warn of an alleged xenophobia throughout the country.
“The immigration issue has mobilized Latinos, and they’ve moved away from the Republican Party, which has adopted a firm hand against undocumented people, and that has hurt Sen. McCain,” Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, told EFE on Tuesday.
“Independent of their legal status, Latinos resent that they are all put in the same bag, and although the immigration issue is not their top priority, it matters,” she added.
George W. Bush became president in 2000 thanks in part to Hispanic support and his promise to reform the immigration system. Despite the fact that the terrorist attacks in September 2001 buried the possibility of that reform, Bush won re-election in 2004 with 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Now, even McCain’s campaign acknowledged that the senator from Arizona – a state that is one of the focal points in the fight against illegal immigration – is confronting an erosion of Hispanic support for him.
It doesn’t help that ultra-rightist groups blame immigrants for all the country’s ills, from the contraction of the economy to the increase in pollution, crime and government spending.
On the defence, McCain’s campaign has always insisted that the self-styled “political maverick” will continue to support comprehensive immigration reform; although he contends that first the security of the country’s borders must be guaranteed.
At each campaign forum with Hispanics this summer, McCain repeated that immigrants “are children of God” and that the country must show more compassion for them.
Tuesday’s verdict at the polls will determine if that message sank in with the Hispanic electorate.