For the last 20 years – ever since passage in 1994 of California’s abortive anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 – Democrats here and around America have increasingly depended on Latino votes.
The 2.5 million California Hispanics who became citizens and registered to vote in the three years after 187 passed, with its bans on undocumented children in public schools and hospitals, made California a solidly Democratic state in almost every election since. The same could happen in current Republican strongholds like Texas and Georgia if Latinos were to become galvanized as they did here.
But all that may now be threatened by the steadfast deportation policies of President Barack Obama and his administration. While most of the 57,000 undocumented juveniles who crossed the border in the last year are still here, over his first five years in office, Obama presided over deportations of more than 1.9 million persons who were in this country illegally. That’s a massive increase from the 1.1 million deported in the last five years of George W. Bush’s presidency
Even as Obama deported their friends and relatives, the vast majority of Latino voters stayed with him and his party. When he ran for reelection two years ago, Obama took more than 75 percent of Latino votes nationally, accounting for most of his margin of victory.
Without those Latino votes for Democrats, California would once again become a tossup state, not one where Republicans lose almost every seriously contested election.
There is no sign of a major slowdown in the rate of deportations, despite frequent calls for one by Latino politicians from many states. One possible reason: Obama apparently sees the deportations as one way to fend off frequent, completely unsubstantiated claims from the Republican right that he is a traitor with a secret agenda of destroying America and should be impeached even though his term has only about two more years to run.
For whatever reason, deportations of non-citizens reached historic highs in the last few years. Since 1996, well over 3 million persons have been “removed” from this country, the word employed by federal immigration authorities to describe deportations. That number doesn’t count more than 10 million apprehended at or near the Mexican border and sent back immediately.
About 70 percent of deportees have been non-criminals, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics, with nine of the top 10 source countries in Latin America. Among those labeled criminal aliens, the most common crime is a traffic offense, according to a recent study by the Latino Decisions polling firm.
That same report shows why all this represents a threat to Democrats in future elections, if not this fall:
— Fully 63 percent of Latino registered voters (all of whom are U.S. citizens) say they know someone who is undocumented, an increase of 10 percent from two years ago.
— Nearly 40 percent of those same voters say they know someone now facing deportation or detention by immigration authorities.
Reports University of New Mexico Prof. Gabriel Sanchez, the study’s author, “Latino voters who know someone that is undocumented are 43.4 percent less likely to have a favorable impression of the President.”
Although the study did not measure this, it’s highly likely that knowing someone who faces deportation or has been expelled from this country will have an even stronger link to unfavorable feelings toward the Democratic chief executive.
For years, the single issue that has been most important to Latino voters has been immigration. The Republican Party’s obdurate opposition to allowing illegal immigrants some kind of pathway to citizenship, no matter how arduous, has kept most of them in the Democratic column, even many who are comfortable with GOP stances on other issues.
But the steady stream of record-level deportations threatens to undermine this strong support from the nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc.
All of which means Democrats in California and beyond ought to take advantage of the solid Latino support they now enjoy, because if deportations continue at their current pace, that support could diminish quickly in future elections.