OPINION

Opinion: Encouraging Latinos Not To Vote Over Immigration Impasse Is Irresponsible, Shameful

President Obama’s team announced recently that they were delaying executive action to grant deferred action from deportation to undocumented immigrants with no criminal record until after the November elections. Like all of you, I was disappointed and sad for what this means for our community. But when I heard some Latino activists telling my Hispanic community not to vote, I was disgusted and have one thing to say to them. Shame on you!

To say that our collective frustration should lead to apathy and less political participation rather than call for more political empowerment for our people and get them to the polls, is the most irresponsible call to action I have ever heard from a Latino activist. 

And they need to stop now. 

I know we’re devastated and pissed off, and I know we’ve waited for a long time for action, but not voting is not the solution. No matter how upset we are or what the circumstances are, we should never tell our community that staying home on Election Day is the solution. It is incredibly cynical, counterproductive and only leads to perpetuating a lack of political power built through political participation. It is political mal-practice.

Latinos are a big demographic in the United States, and our community continues to grow. According to the U.S. Census, in 2011 there were approximately 52 million Latinos living in the United States. And today, approximately 800,000 Latinos turn 18 every year. But these numbers don’t turn into political power by themselves overnight, it requires constant political participation and mobilization.

Unfortunately, we Latinos have a big problem that’s called apathy. Instead of transforming our frustration into electoral power and making our voices heard, we decide to stay home on Election Day - giving the impression that anyone can take us for granted because we won’t do anything about it. It’s that same political apathy that makes politicians – in both parties - believe that they can ignore us and ignore the needs and well-being of our community. 

Voting is our voice. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October, what better way to honor our legacy than to work towards better political empowerment to ensure Latinos will be taken seriously.

- Maria Cardona

This is why the Republican Party continues refusing to give us a vote on immigration reform in the House of Representatives. Because Republicans believe based on historical evidence that Latinos won’t vote in the midterm elections in large numbers, and therefore won’t hold them accountable or affect the composition of Congress for the next two years. They believe that since Latinos won’t come out to vote this November that they can afford to ignore us without risk.

Latinos are trapped in a vicious circle and by not voting we only boycott our community’s bargaining power and ourselves.

In 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 31.2% of Latino eligible voters went out to vote. And in 2012, 48% of Latino eligible voters or 11.2 million Latinos went out to vote. But 12.1 million stayed home. If those 12 million had voted, what a great difference we would have made. 

The elections in November have serious repercussions – whoever wins in each race will help define the issues that Congress deals with and that state legislatures across the country deal with, and which they don’t give the time of day. Latinos can’t wait any longer.

In fact, if all Latinos who were eligible to register to vote did so, and then all Latino voters came out to vote, Latinos could flip the House of Representatives. Period. There are enough eligible Latinos in swing districts and in districts that Obama won in 2012 or lost by less than 2 points, that if they all showed up to vote, the House could be up for grabs. 

Do you think Republicans would have dared not bring up immigration reform if Latinos showed this kind of political power?  Not by a long shot.  

This November our choice is clear – between Democratic candidates who have fought for immigration reform, want to increase the minimum wage so that no one who works full time has to suffer to take care of their family, and want to continue to give 10 million Latinos affordable health care under the Affordable Care Act, and Republican candidates who voted to shut down the government, waste our money by frivolously suing the President, want to take away our health care and continue voting against our community every chance they get. 

Republicans did vote on one immigration bill before they left for recess:  they voted to gut the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and deport all the DREAMers. And now some are even threatening to shut down the government again to make sure the President can’t fulfill his promise of relief from deportation for a larger number of people in our community. 

We can’t afford to wait any longer for immigration reform, or for equal pay, or a higher minimum wage, or for access to affordable higher education for our children. We want our children to have access to higher education without having to worry about how they’re going to pay these outrageously high student loans. The American Dream should not be mortgaged on an unpayable student loan.

The stakes are as high this November as they are in Presidential elections.  

This November remember to fight against the temptation to stay home and remember that we’ve never solved more problems with less participation and less democracy. When less people vote, Republicans win. And when Republicans win, our community loses.

Voting is our voice. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October, what better way to honor our legacy than to work towards better political empowerment to ensure Latinos will be taken seriously. Don’t let frustration turn into weakness. Instead turn it into political bargaining power so that politicians can never again turn their backs on us for so long, and get away with it. So amigos, se puede? Sí. But it’s up to us.

Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, Principal at the Dewey Square Group and Founder of Latinovations.   

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