Turning Anger on Immigration Law Into Votes

Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010

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Activists hope that SB 1070, which Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law in April and is scheduled to take effect July 29, will generate enough angry new Latino voters like Robles to reshape this state’s hard-line approach to immigration.

As they fan out across sun-bleached barrios this summer, the activists cite the example of California.

More than 1 million California Latinos became citizens after the passage of anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, putting the state solidly in the hands of Democrats and pushing immigration crackdowns to the margins.

Many analysts and political scientists predict a similar outcome–eventually–in Arizona. Latinos, 30% of the population, are the fastest-growing and youngest demographic group in the state.

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But Arizona may be much more difficult to change, partly because Latinos are a smaller piece of the electorate in the state than in California, said Harry Pachon of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at USC.

And Stan Barnes, a lobbyist and former Republican legislator in the Arizona Senate, said the state’s crackdown on illegal immigrants would bring out other new voters–ones who support sealing the border.

“The average guy in Arizona believes that Mexico has become a narco state and that is coming to Arizona,” Barnes said. “The fact that the Arizona government has rallied to confront that has energized a whole new electorate.”

It’s obvious which way the political wind is blowing in the state that has become the favorite illegal entry point from Mexico. Few candidates for statewide office here, even Democrats who opposed SB 1070, are openly sympathetic to illegal immigrants.

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Polls show that SB 1070 is popular in Arizona, except among Latinos; in the most lopsided survey, as much as 81% opposed it. The get-out-the-vote campaign, launched in June by a coalition of labor, community and religious groups, is trying to channel that outrage in November.

The canvassers target Latinos who are already registered but rarely vote. Latino voter turnout hovers about 35%, and about 60% of all Arizona voters went to the polls in the last off-year election. Sixteen percent of registered voters in the state are Latino.

Francisco Heredia, the state director of Mi Familia Vota, the nonprofit spearheading the campaign, said the decision to focus on turnout was forced partly by Arizona law requiring people to prove their citizenship status before registering to vote. That makes it cumbersome for canvassers to sign up people who don’t have documents handy or are wary about sharing them with strangers.

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