With President Obama announcing he will wait until after the midterm elections to act on immigration, Latinos have had to re-learn one of the oldest lessons in politics: politicians rarely break promises to constituencies that consistently vote.
Many people are understandably upset over the delay, but it’s not entirely surprising. A lack of Latino political power in midterm elections is the real root cause of inaction on immigration reform this year. To truly get D.C.’s attention, Latinos have to start winning, or at least be a part of coalitions that win midterm elections.
Despite Obama’s decision to delay action, House Republicans are the single biggest impediment to immigration reform. They refused to vote on a major bipartisan immigration overhaul passed by the Senate. And they have raised the specter of impeachment if Obama acts on his own to fix the system. House Republicans are willing to continually block issues important to Latino voters because they believe we don't comprise a large-enough share of voters in competitive races. In the races where we do make up a large share of the electorate, they think we won't vote in large enough numbers to win elections.
Republicans are only half right. Latino voter participation is expected to increase this election cycle. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) predicts that around 7.8 million, roughly 30 percent of all eligible Latino voters, will cast ballots in 2014. That number is actually 18.8 percent higher than midterm turnout in 2010. The bad news is that the majority of competitive congressional races are occurring in places where the concentration of Latino voters is just not very high.
Even though smaller numbers of Latinos live in competitive districts, our voices still must be heard. Our community must become politically active to the point where we can win political campaigns in places without large Latino populations. It’s not just about turning out Latino voters. Latino political operatives must engage all voters sympathetic to our causes. To pass immigration reform there must be a concerted effort to train political operatives to run campaigns for candidates who will fight for our priorities.
Take Ruben Gallego, who successfully boosted turnout among Latino voters in Phoenix, Arizona to win a competitive primary. Gallego utilized an ambitious field program powered by DREAM activists and mobile organizing technology to established contact with first-time voters in his district.
Gallego's campaign increased turnout over the last primary election and defeated his opponent by 12 percentage points. Gallego was successful because he tapped into young, politically active Latino political operatives who know how to organize and turn out all voters in their community. Young Latinos are the key to creating a future in which the Republican Party does not ignore Latino voters.
To be politically viable, we must win elections not just by the size of our population, but by being politically active in states where we do not have large demographic advantages. We must support and elect politicians who will champion our causes. Latinos cannot forget politicians will ignore the wishes of a constituency if they think they will not suffer any blowback at the polls.
Latinos must become a voting bloc to be reckoned with in all elections, not just during presidential campaigns. Imagine for a moment a world in which Latinos could tip the balance in states like Idaho or Ohio, or run viable candidates against anti-immigrant politicians, such as Iowa’s Steve King.
That day will be the day when politicians stop taking our votes for granted and start acting on our priorities.
Kristian Ramos is a public relations strategist living in Washington, D.C. He's worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Kristian began his career at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy groups in the country.