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Immigration Reform 2013: Latino Voters Say Reform is More Important Than Economy

A wise person once said luck is at the intersection of opportunity and preparedness.  Immigrant communities winning battle after setback after battle on immigration policy have turned this adage on its head. The new "convergence of aspiration and opportunity" has given rise to a new and powerful push from within the Hispanic/Latino electorate: issue priority overhaul.

Polled as recently as this past November, while candidates on both sides of the presidential election vied for the lion share of Latino votes (a must to win the election), a whopping "53% of voters chose the economy as their prime concern, while just 35 percent prioritized immigration." New poll data from Latino Decisions shows an unsurprising turnaround with immigration taking over as the top issue at "58% in total … followed by creating jobs and fixing the economy at 38%," a sign that the Latino community recognizes its growing strength and subsequent ability to push for legislation that is both critical and personal.

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, a director at the National Council of La Raza, said in a recent immigration reform activist press call that Latinos no longer have "the economy in their minds and immigration in their hearts." Rather, says Martinez de Castro, according to the BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer, "This poll shows that immigration is becoming an even higher priority for this population. That's extremely significant.”

Why is it significant? It’s significant because as the share of the electorate is overtaken by growth in the Latino voting bloc, national priorities are sure to see a sea change reflective of Latino priorities. (Calm down, it’s not a bad thing. Laws and policies always reflect the electorate that votes on them.)

Immigration is personal. These are families we’re talking about: grandparents dying alone in home countries while their families are disallowed to see them; fathers and mothers from separated children; spouses hugging each through border fences; young people in detention centers or struggling through academia with smothered dreams of future professional success. Reform activists stand for people and recognize that patchwork and piecemeal reforms won’t suffice, that band-aids hide hurt but cannot heal systemic ills. They’re demanding more.

"The poll … demonstrates that the vast majority of Latino voters — 93% of respondents — hope for comprehensive immigration reform legislation before the end of 2013. Only 6% of voters said it was ‘not too important’ or ‘not at all important’ that Congress and the president address immigration reform this year." Family reunification is at stake, DREAMers are at stake, guest workers are at stake, undocumented LGBTIQ families are at stake … and the stakes are high.

In addition to the obvious critical personal nature of the immigration debate, there is another connection few people are pointing out. The either/or offering of immigration versus the economy, the two being pitted against one another, competing for a "top spot," is a false choice. It’s a red herring; don’t chase it.

Immigration is an economic issue. The economy depends on immigration. The workforce depends on education which is also tied up in immigration. This has been proven time and time again. This is not, as some would posit, a switch from a Latino preference for economic security to one of immigration reform but, rather, an acknowledgement of the symbiotic nature of the two and electorate ability to procure economic security by pressing for immigration reform. The same could not be said of the reverse; U.S. economic security would not, in itself, guarantee comprehensive immigration reform.

And the guarantee is being fought for. Just this week, Los Angeles immigrant rights organizations and student groups hosted the National Week of Action Los Angeles. DREAM Team Los Angeles (DTLA), IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success) @UCLA, the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA), the Los Angeles Immigrant Youth Coalition (LAIYC), and the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) organized this week of action, including banner drops, phone banking events, and rallies where parents, household workers, parents and youth came out as "undocumented and unafraid" to "to help increase pressure on politicians and President Obama to pass a humane and comprehensive immigration reform bill, put a moratorium on all deportations, and create a humane pathway to citizenship for all."

According to the coalition’s press release, "Anything less than citizenship would leave millions of families in limbo and condemn them to life in second-class status." And that’s something no one should stand for. As Martinez de Castro opined, immigration reform activists view the current political moment as "a convergence of aspiration and opportunity." The aspiration is there. The opportunity is there.

It may be a hard fight money versus people, entrenched interests versus grassroots organizing with neither side showing signs of backing down, but rest assured that comprehensive immigration reform will happen. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

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