Posted on February 10, 2021

How Grass-Roots Efforts by Georgia’s Latinos Helped Tip the Senate Races

Rachel Hatzipanagos, Washington Post, February 3, 2021

Selena Herrera’s political awakening began last summer when, horrified by the police killing of George Floyd, she organized a protest for racial justice in Tifton, Ga.


Herrera, 22, became more attuned to injustices around her and wanted to fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and undocumented immigrants, some of whom are in her own family. She started knocking on doors as a paid community organizer to get out the vote during last year’s general election season as part of a grass-roots effort by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), a nonprofit that supports immigrant rights.

Herrera, who had never voted before the 2020 election, said she felt especially motivated to get involved after Georgia’s Senate races headed to a runoff. If Raphael G. Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their respective elections against Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Democrats would control the Senate and support President Biden’s pledge to enact comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.


Although Hispanics like Herrera make up a small share of voters in the state — about 5 percent — exit polling from the Jan. 5 Senate runoff found that nearly two-thirds of Latino voters supported each Democratic candidate, up from the 52 percent who supported Ossoff and the 31 percent who supported Warnock in November’s election. {snip}

“No doubt the Latino vote could have made the difference, potentially the difference between winning and losing,” said Adelina Nicholls, the executive director for GLAHR, which partnered with Mijente, a national organization that advocates for Latinos.

The number of eligible Hispanic voters in the Atlanta metro area is expanding. There were 60 percent more Hispanic registered voters in 2020 compared with 2016, up from 106,000 to 170,000, according to the Pew Research Center.

Organizers are tapping into demographic changes that are transforming the state. The median age of Latinos in Georgia is 27, according to census data, with many of them born in the United States to parents who are undocumented.

{snip} Atlanta projects its Latino population will grow from about 12 percent in 2015 to 21 percent by 2050.


GLAHR helped elect Keybo Taylor as the first Black sheriff of Gwinnett County in November. In one of his first acts as sheriff, Taylor fulfilled his campaign promise to eliminate the 287(g) immigration program, which allowed the county jail to collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The organization also tapped into a population that may seem counterintuitive: ineligible voters.

Undocumented immigrant parents can urge their children to vote, and their children, born in the United States and constitutionally granted citizenship from birth, can then do so with their family’s interests in mind, Nicholls said.

Nationally, more than 8 million U.S. citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented, according to a 2017 report from the Center for American Progress. In Georgia, 503,155 U.S. citizens live with at least one undocumented family member, the report found.