- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

PHOENIX — Organizers of successfully staged pro-immigration rallies and boycotts nationwide plan to use the momentum to register hundreds of thousands of new voters, mainly Hispanics, in what some are calling “an immigrant freedom summer.”

A coalition of pro-immigration groups that rallied millions of protesters this week and last month say they want immigrants, mainly Hispanics, to have a greater voice in congressional races this year and in the 2008 presidential election.

A key player in the drive is the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the country, which has begun a voter mobilization project known as “LEAP to Action.”

NCLR President and Chief Operating Officer Janet Murguia recently said the project expects to reach “millions of potential new citizens and voters,” aided by a public service announcement campaign that will run through November.

“Our goal is to foster a ‘culture of participation,’” Mrs. Murguia said during a recent telephone press conference.

“We are providing the necessary tools for those organizations with the closest ties to our community … to assist them in helping to turn legal immigrants into citizens, citizens into registered voters, registered voters into actual voters on Election Day, and today’s activists into tomorrow’s advocates.”

The NCLR, which said requests for citizenship applications to the organization have surged over the past few weeks, will work with community-based organizations to register voters in at least 14 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut and Florida.

The voter-registration drive has even united the pro-immigration groups who opposed Monday’s boycott and those who supported it, both sides saying the establishment of political clout for those seeking immigration reform took precedence over past differences.

A major target of those seeking to register the new voters will be the U.S.-born children of the 11 million to 12 million illegal aliens now living in the United States. Others are naturalized citizens, whose voter-turnout rates — particularly among Hispanics — have traditionally been low.

Fewer than 47 percent of eligible Hispanic voters cast ballots in 2004, compared to about 67 percent for white and 60 percent for black voters, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The voter-registration drive, led in part by the Washington, D.C.-based National Capital Immigration Coalition, coincides with stalled efforts in Congress to pass an immigration reform bill. A Senate bill aimed at giving illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship was shelved after the massive pro-immigration rallies on April 10.

Monday’s boycott and demonstrations were designed to display the political and economic clout of immigrants, and show Congress it needs to treat illegal aliens fairly. A House bill passed last year would make illegal presence in the U.S. a felony.

Illegal aliens are barred from participating in federal elections, but some localities have begun allowing them and other non-citizens to vote.

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