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Will New Round of Immigration Raids Dampen Latino Political Enthusiasm in 2016?

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After news broke last week that the Obama Administration was planning a new round of immigration raids targeting young mothers and unaccompanied children from Central America, leading Democratic voices and policy experts and advocates condemned the planned enforcement actions as morally wrong and misguided on policy. Additionally, as leading observers are beginning to highlight, the planned raids also have a potentially damaging political effect.

Writing at Daily Kos last week, Kerry Eleveld had a must-read piece outlining the electoral arguments for why potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, “should quit courting GOP voters and go all in on Latinos and immigration.” The story, which quotes extensively from Latino Decisions principal Sylvia Manzano, includes the key data point based on ongoing Latino Decisions research: “this year Latino voters already feel more motivated by mid-April than they did one day before voting in 2012.” Eleveld assessed that, “Latino voters could be the single most powerful voting bloc in 2016” and that “immigration might perhaps be the single most penetrating progressive issue of the election—IF Democrats play their cards right.”

Unfortunately, the raids are a prime example of Democratsnot playing their cards right. As a range of observers are noting, the planned raids have the potential to undermine Latinos’ sky-high motivation and enthusiasm during a year in which Democrats cannot afford any drop-off in Latino enthusiasm.

In a recent Salon column, progressive strategist Henry Fernandez noted, that while demographics provide the Democrats with an advantage in the Electoral College, “if Latino voters turn out at worse levels than what occurred in 2008 and 2012, it becomes much more likely that the Republican nominee will get elected president.” Fernandez then envisions the potential conditions “under which this Latino turnout drought could occur,” noting that, “The Obama Administration would need to engage in deportation raids across the country primarily targeting Latino families and children … Grassroots organizing and widespread coverage in Spanish Language media would make the raids and the pain they create for families well known among Latino voters … The raids would need to be blamed on the current Democratic president.”

María Peña, Washington Correspondent for the nation’s largest daily Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, writes on how the raids could affect efforts to register and mobilize Latino voters for the upcoming election. Her story (translation by America’s Voice), “Election-year raids could affect Latino vote, activists warn,” quotes Danny Cendejas of Detention Watch Network, who says that even though many Latinos will vote against Trump for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, “people always look for a reason to vote and these raids are a scathing reminder of the lack of confidence on Barack Obama by a vast majority of the Latino community … Many Latino voters will remember Obama’s unfulfilled (2008) promises … It remains to be seen if the Democratic candidates will remain committed to the rights and dignity of immigrants living in the U.S.” Peña’s piece also quotesimmigration advocate Angie Kelley of the Center for American Progress, “It’s difficult to imagine how civic engagement strategies can succeed, when one day Hispanic households receive a knock on the door asking them to register to vote, and the next day they are afraid to open the door.”

And Gustavo Torres of CASA of Maryland and Virginia tells the Washington Post, “The president is sending a message that he doesn’t care about our community, and it is going to have a political price … [Latinos] are not going to vote for Trump, so what option do they have? They’re going to stay home.”

The announcement of the planned raids – and the immigration debate as a whole – are not just abstract issues for millions of Latino voters across the nation. As data from recent Latino Decisions polling underscores, Latino voters have a personal connection to the immigration debate – 57% of Latino voters know someone who is undocumented; one-third of Latino voters (34%) know someone who has faced deportation or detention for immigration reasons; and one-third of Latino voters (33%) know someone who has applied for DACA.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The planned raids are wrong as policy, abhorrent from a moral perspective, and potentially harmful to Democrats’ political hopes this November. If the Administration continues down this path it’s up to Democrats in Congress and advocates from across the country to demand a course correction.”