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Immigrant votes, not just Latinos, could swing reform

Felicia Persaud | 11/9/2012, 1:45 p.m.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in his usual frank tone, said recently on Enrique Santos'...
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in his usual frank tone, said recently on Enrique Santos' radio show that if the Latino voting bloc "comes out and changes the election," then suddenly the GOP will pay real attention, including to calls for immigration reform.

Biden, in a last-bid effort to get out Latino voters, insisted that he and President Barack Obama have been breaking their necks trying to get immigration reform. He posited: "If the Latino vote comes out ... all of a sudden they're going to say, 'Oh my Lord, I guess we better get in line with the president.'"

But what Biden missed is not just the importance of the Latino vote, but the entire immigrant voting bloc, including Caribbean and Asian immigrants.

U.S. Census reports tell us that some 53 percent of all foreign-born residents came from Latin America and the Caribbean. The next most common region of birth was Asia, with 28 percent.

Forty-four percent of all foreign-born people are naturalized citizens, and 54.2 percent of naturalized voters are foreign-born women. Currently, the number of foreign-born people in the United States is at 40 million.

"Few realize how large the foreign-born vote has become in selected states," stated Harry P. Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute and professor of public policy at the University of Southern California. "In six states alone, they number over 4 million voters."

Meanwhile, a record 23.7 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. This is up by more than 4 million since 2008, when 19.5 million Latinos were eligible to vote.

However, the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has historically lagged behind whites and blacks by substantial margins. In 2008, for example, 50 percent of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites.

With the election neck and neck leading up to Nov. 6, Latinos and immigrants were possibly the most important bloc of swing voters, whose choice could still determine the outcome. And with Hurricane Sandy lowering the enthusiasm of many voters, this bloc may have been more critical than ever.

Given Republicans' stance against immigration reform in recent years, the administration has a good chance of getting this bloc firmly into their camp.

Biden has insisted that the White House has a lot of Democrats "trying to get a real immigration law that takes millions of people out of the shadows, making sure that 'Dreamers' don't have to go back in many cases to countries they've never been to."

Now it's up to this bloc of Latino and other immigrant voters to send a clear message and make sure the issue of immigration reform is addressed once and for all in the next year of the new administration.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.