by Valeria Fernández, New America Media
PHOENIX, AZ.--The protests over SB-1070, Arizona’s hard-line immigration law, have calmed down, but another type of mobilization has taken place, one voter at a time.
Monday was the deadline for voter registration in Arizona. A coalition of 10 nonprofit organizations that joined to help grow Latino political power in the state claims to have registered more than 22,000 new voters.
In addition, the group, ONE Arizona, claims it registered another 42,000 on a permanent early-voting list and plans to mobilize even more.
“It doesn’t end there, we’ll continue our efforts,” said Francisco Heredia, spokesperson for ONE Arizona and the state director of Mi Familia Vota, another coalition group. Now that the registration deadline has ended, he aid, the coalition’s success boils down to making sure voters go to the polls.
“All the Latinos that are signing up with us are saying, ‘We need to change the direction the state is going in on the immigration front.’ They feel they’ve been under attack,” Heredia said.
Although Hispanics are over 30 percent of the state population they make up only 15 percent of registered voters. Another 300,000 Latinos are eligible to vote but have not registered.
“[SB-1070] was a shock to our community,” stated Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, a grassroots group involved in voter registration. “All this energy and motivation comes from that.”
Promise Arizona prides itself in following a model of organizing inspired by César Chávez’s farm-workers movement, said Chris Torres, field director for Promise Arizona. The organization, which boasts more than 1,000 volunteers, has focused on certain neighborhoods and worked with volunteers who live there.
The volunteers’ greatest strength is that they know their neighbors and are able to tell the personal story of how SB-1070 has affected them, Torres explained.
He continued, “Once people tell their story, they can’t turn away. Often people feel isolated from the civic-engagement process. When people share their stories, they find their commonality.”
Promise Arizona was able to enlist the help of students in 16 high schools, and the presence of youth has energized the group, Torres said.
“It makes me sad to see that a lot of people in my family are afraid. They don’t want to go out because they fear they’ll be stopped by the police,” said Adrian Salinas, 17 and a volunteer with the organization. “I want to show Latino families we can make a change.”
Many in the pro-immigrant movement hope that SB-1070 will galvanize the political participation of Latino voters that California’s Proposition 187--a measure aimed at undocumented immigrants--did in the 1990s.
But some political analysts caution that setting expectations too high might backfire on the political momentum for Latinos.
Rodolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University said significantly building the Latino voting bloc may take up to a decade.
“It is a significant battle, but they’re going to see that this is going to have long-term benefits,” Espino said.
Espino said that while Latinos might not have the numbers to make a difference in the upcoming elections, they could make the races more competitive by building coalitions with other ethnic groups, such as Native-Americans and African-Americans.
Passage of SB-1070 has brought blacks and Latinos closer, through a series of marches, church vigils and the visits of such civil rights activists as the Rev. Al Sharpton and scholar Cornel West.
“SB-1070 is providing an opportunity to unite these communities,” Espino noted.
Lawrence Robinson, director of the South Mountain Office of the Democratic Party agreed. The part opened the office in a mostly Latino and African-American neighborhood with an eye towards registering voters—and making sure they get to the polls.
“We live primarily in the same neighborhoods, we have the same failed schools, our streets are falling apart, these are common issues,” Robinson said.
Blacks are not expected to come out in large numbers during the midterm election without President Obama on the ballot. Also Cloves Campbell--the only African-American representative in the State Legislature--lost his primary.
SB-1070 could actually motivate black voters as much as Latinos, Robinson said.
He added, “The vast majority of black folks that I talk to are very angry with SB-1070. They feel, ‘First they come after Latinos and then they’ll come after us.”