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Florida and National Immigration and Civic Engagement Leaders Discuss FL Primaries, Voter Engagement, and What’s to Come in General Election

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Florida and national leaders from immigration and civic engagement organizations gathered on a press call today to react to the results of both parties’ primaries in Florida and assess what the results mean for the 2016 general election, Latino and immigrant voter engagement, and the politics and policy of the immigration debate. On the call, speakers shared perspectives from their ongoing organizing and mobilization efforts and weighed in on the departure of Marco Rubio—condemning his failure to stand up for the community and his lone legislative accomplishment, comprehensive immigration reform.

Monica Russo, President of SEIU Florida said, “What we saw with Senator Rubio was a complete betrayal of our community and unfortunately he has become a role model for many other state representatives who have started to advance anti-immigrant measures in the state legislature. Thanks to our movement, these types of policies keep losing and will continue to lose, because they are out of sync with our community’s values and needs. We are energized coming out of these past couple of weeks because we’ve seen a phenomenon that we haven’t experienced in Florida for years. We’ve seen a convergence of Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, low-wage workers, the Black Lives Matter movement, and activists of all ages and races. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the racist anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Republican party has unified our movement and propelled us to the next level. This is not just about November. It’s about what happens in the coming years and what kind of community and world we want to build.”

Added Christina M. Hernández a Hispanic Community Leader and Spokesperson for Organize Now, “For the first time in Florida history, the majority of Democratic primary voters were from minority communities deeply affected by Marco Rubio’s betrayal on immigration, the Puerto Rican debt crisis, and climate change. Florida voters have spoken, and Marco Rubio’s days in elected office are done.  He abandoned his constituents and Senate seat to embark on a premature presidential bid, and his own state rejected him. Marco Rubio should take this as a clear message from Florida voters that he does not represent us now, and will not represent us in the future, should he be foolish enough to run for office in the Sunshine State again.”

Added, Gihan Perera, Executive Director of New Florida Majority, “In many ways what Donald Trump has done with his hatred, divisive rhetoric, and actions, has ignited voter enthusiasm in a very serious way. We see that in particular with the Latino vote in Florida, Latinos are hugely over performing and we attribute that directly to this Trump effect. We’ve seen a huge surge in Latino and black activism because of what is happening with Donald Trump  and we are finding that Latinos in particular are responding to what is seen as an attack on the community. That being said it’s not enough for Trump to just be Trump. This is the time for Democrats to lean in to what is important to our communities, we have to insist on that from the other candidates who may assume they get a pass because of Trump. We will put our communities in motion at the ballot box and on the street not only to challenge the values on the other side, but also to challenge Democrats to step up to the plate and make the investment in issues that our community cares about.” 

Serena Perez, Organizing Coordinator at New Florida Majority said“As we register new voters, what we are witnessing is extremely high energy in response to what people are hearing on the campaign trail and from Trump’s campaign in particular. In fact, in Florida our registrations doubled in the field in the last week alone as people registered in response to what are being perceived as attacks on the Latino community from the Republican field. I am seeing people who have never voted in their life registering so they can vote against Donald Trump. There is a very personal reaction from folks on the ground here to what is happening in this election cycle. While the hate that we’re seeing from the candidates this election cycle is painful, it is also a huge motivation for the community as voters channel that feeling into political activism and voter mobilization.”

Said Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice, “To the extent that Marco Rubio is a cautionary tale, it is not that he stood up for immigration reform, it’s that he didn’t. This campaign cycle has seen Rubio abandoning immigration reform and catering to a nativist minority within his party and ultimately paying the price. Imagine the general election consequences Republicans are likely to face with a presumptive nominee whose nativism means he has the highest unfavorable ratings among Latinos of any candidate in modern American history. If Donald Trump is the nominee come November we are likely to witness a worse disaster than the one suffered by Mitt Romney in 2012, when Republicans were punished so severely by Latino voters that you had an RNC autopsy report essentially begging Congress to get right once and for all on immigration reform. As last night’s results showed, when there is a real investment in communities of color and the groups mobilizing them, it can really change the electorate and make a huge electoral difference. If this election comes down to a contest between an inclusive multiethnic America vs. a white backlash against a multiethnic America, we like our chances.”

See below for some key data points from last night’s primary:

  • Latinos were 17% of the Florida Republican primary electorate and 52% of this subset supported Rubio (Trump received 27%)
  • Immigration was 4th of 4 “most important” issues at 12% for Florida Republicans – ranking well behind economy/jobs (35%), government spending (26%), and terrorism (22%)
  • By a 53%-38% margin, Florida Republicans believe undocumented immigrants should be offered legal status (54%) instead of deported (38%)
  • In Democratic primary in FL, Latinos were 20% (supported Clinton over Sanders by a 72%-28% margin)
  • The Democratic exit polls didn’t ask immigration on most important issue or the legalization Q

Find more Republican exit poll data here and Democratic data here. Click HERE for a recording of today’s call.