- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

Hispanic rights activists and immigration-policy researchers disagree on how many Hispanics will turn out to vote on Nov. 7.

Advocates say Hispanics are encouraged by rallies last spring and motivated by local government efforts to limit day-laborer practices and housing of illegal aliens. Researchers argue that the rallies had little effect.

Wilma Linares, of the immigrant advocacy group CASA of Maryland, said local politicians have ignored immigrants’ concerns about affordable housing, health care, education and immigration reform, and that Hispanics will respond on Election Day.

“We want our politicians to understand that … we have 90,000 Latinos who are capable of voting in Maryland alone and we are going to do everything we can for them to get out and vote for those candidates who are really looking to improve their response to the issues that we’re interested in,” Miss Linares said last week at “Your Vote Is Your Voice,” a nonpartisan campaign to rally immigrant and black voters.

Researchers say many Hispanics are here illegally and represent the ethnic group with the fewest registered voters. They noted that demonstrations fizzled when legislation to grant illegals a path to citizenship stalled in Congress.

“There’s no doubt that the series of events around the national mobilization … will help serve as a stimulus for Hispanic turnout,” said Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.

“But months later we have a situation where the only legislation that’s come out of Congress has been a modestly funded and incomplete federal border security program and fence and no real resolution on the status of undocumented workers,” Mr. Segal said.

So, “I think there’s a real question whether [the Hispanic turnout will] be anywhere near where a lot of community activists had predicted at the time.”

More than 17 million Hispanics in the U.S. are eligible to vote, a 7 percent increase from 2004, the Pew Hispanic Center reported. More than 95,000 Hispanics are eligible to vote in Maryland and more than 140,600 are eligible in Virginia.

“What they’re really showing is that the number of naturalized immigrants has increased nationally,” said Jack Martin, a special projects director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a District-based think tank that favors curbs on illegal border crossings.

“What it doesn’t show is that there is likely to be any increase in voter participation.”

Immigration advocates point to hot-button issues such as driver’s licensing, day-laborer centers and local enforcement of federal immigration laws as reasons for Hispanics to go to the polls.

Pew figures show that Hispanic voter turnout increased from 5.5 percent of votes cast in 2000 to 6 percent in 2004.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of frustration with the political clog-up on the issues and we expect a lot of voter anger in November,” said Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland.

CASA officials said they registered nearly 600 voters during the summer and that citizenship course enrollment has quadrupled.

CASA volunteers plan to knock on at least 100 doors by Election Day and help Executive Director Gustavo Torres make calls to residences. The group is asking people who use its legal, financial, language and employment services to bring at least five friends or relatives to the polls in an effort to increase participation by 30,000 voters.

The Prince George’s County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the D.C.-based African Resource Center and labor unions will join the initiative.

Mr. Segal said that may not be enough to tip the outcome of local elections.

“The most significant challenge is that a large number of Hispanic voters in Maryland are not registered or are not citizens,” he said. “And while CASA has a tremendous amount of clout, the question is — because of who they represent — how much electoral strength can they garner?”

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