Immigrants the New Face of ‘Real America’

Gebe Martinez, Politico.com, Oct. 28, 2008

In an election season filled with hyperbole and lies, the truest moments came just in time for next week’s election.

The candor came from Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and two GOP House members from Minnesota and North Carolina, who rallied for votes by suggesting that only some parts of the United States—presumably those that support them—are the “real America.”

Their spontaneity, which they later apologized for in the face of sliding support, revealed a state of denial in the changing American electorate. The truth is, the real America—the whole America—will be seen on Election Day, when the millions of votes by “new Americans” are counted.

New Americans, the fastest-growing voting bloc, are naturalized immigrants, mostly Hispanic, and the U.S.-born children of immigrants since 1965, according to a recent report by the Immigration Policy Center.

If political pollsters, campaign strategists, and civil rights and immigrants’ advocates are correct, these newer citizens will shatter voting records next week.

Their increasing numbers were widely anticipated, but their high rate of growth “has been utterly unprecedented,” observed Rob Paral, who studied the shifting electorate for the immigration center.

While the national voter registration rate rose 11.3 percent from 1996 to 2004, the new American sign-up rate jumped almost 60 percent, according to Paral. And they vote, too. In 2006, more than 7.3 million new Americans—two-thirds of those registered—cast ballots.

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But new Americans will march to the polls in unprecedented numbers for two more reasons: They feel the intense heat generated by conservatives in the immigration debate, and they are Americans who have the right to vote.

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Though Republicans’ sharp-tongued immigration stance has turned off these voters, Democrats should not take them for granted, Kelley warned. The Electoral College battle is often won by slim margins in many states, and these new Americans could be this year’s “new and weighty” voting bloc, she said.

As new voters, they do not have long-standing party loyalties and are the “quintessential swing electorate,” added Efrain Escobedo, of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund.

And they will be voting everywhere.

The swelling numbers of new voters, as well as Latinos and Asian-Americans, are no longer concentrated in traditional immigrant states such as Florida, New York and those along the U.S.-Mexico border. Their populations have expanded to states like North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada and Washington.

They are expected to be a force in presidential battleground states as well as in congressional contests in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

In Indiana, for example, few could have imagined until a few weeks ago that a Spanish-language radio station would be handing out pan de dulce at a get-out-the-vote rally for Hispanics. Yes, in crimson-red Indiana.

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The seismic shift in the electorate will only continue, said Paral, who estimated that half of California’s teenagers who will be eligible to vote in 2012 have an immigrant parent.

The challenge for future candidates is to figure out how to incorporate this emerging voting bloc into the political mainstream, said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group.

“If the parties don’t adapt to that, they are going to be on the wrong side of history,” Sharry said.

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