Immigration Trumps War for Many Ethnic Voters

By Odette Alcazaren-Keeley, New America Media
Tuesday November 07, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO—Many ethnic voters will troop to the polling booths on Tuesday with one thing in mind: immigration. And there are indications from ethnic journalists that their communities are leaning toward the Democratic ticket to get the kind of comprehensive immigration reform law they want. Some fear that the issue will get swept under the rug until the new Congress starts in January. 

Alberto Vourvoulias, executive editor of El Diario/La Prensa, the country’s oldest Spanish-language newspaper, says immigration is the core issue driving voters in New Jersey to vote for incumbent Democrat Senator Bob Menendez. Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been “pro-immigrant, supporting comprehensive immigration reform and voting against the construction of the 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Vourvoulias explains.  

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of that border wall is why his readers are unhappy with her, according to Vourvoulias. Protests led by immigrant rights groups criticized Clinton’s vote for the wall. Despite this, El Diario/La Prensa is endorsing Clinton, although, Vourvoulias says, “We do have a caveat for her, and that is we urge her to support immigrants, whether undocumented or not, and we are also very worried about her position on the Iraq war.” 

The newspaper is supporting both New York Democratic candidates Clinton and gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Spitzer, based on what Vourvoulias calls “the small party-line basis.” The paper, Vourvoulias explains, is supporting candidates based on issues that are closest to the hearts of Latinos. “It’s an innovative approach, it’s the first time it’s been done in New York, and we’re the only publication to have done it,” Vourvoulias says. The paper wants Spitzer to be aware of the importance of affordable housing, to support fairer health care for the poor and to stand up for immigrants. 

Joe Wei, national desk editor for World Journal, one of the largest Chinese-language dailies in the United States, predicts that most Chinese voters might favor Democrats, hoping for the passage of a comprehensive immigration law that will benefit the community. 

Wei predicts a generally lower turnout than the last elections in 2004, except where Asians are running for office. He points out that the only Asian-American in a national campaign is incumbent Congressman David Wu, running for re-election in Oregon. Most are running for state and local slots. If elected, Democrat Ellen Young will be the first Asian female State Assembly person in New York. “In California,” Wei says, “we have Democrats John Chiang running for state controller and Judy Chu running for state tax commissioner.” According to Wei, “here in New York, the Asian American Legal Defense League for the first time will send out an elections monitor to at least eight states where there are [many] Asian voters.” Wei assumes the extra monitoring of bilingual election services will encourage more Asian voters. 

South Asians are worried about immigration reform, says India Currents editor Ashok Jethanandani, but few realize “just how many undocumented workers there are from the community and how much the issue affects us.” There are about 280,000 undocumented Indian Americans, Jethanandani says, a number which has doubled in the past five years. “It’s a fast-growing population that doesn’t have much representation,” Jethanandani says, and “the South Asian response to the problem has been along their party affiliations.” 

The California-based monthly magazine has also been monitoring Indian American candidates running this year. Jethanandani says the number of Indian candidates increases each election cycle. “This year, about 30-40 candidates nationwide are seeking office and will drive more voters to the polling precincts,” he says. 

The most politically engaged ethnic population, African-Americans, won’t be focused on immigration reform. One of the country’s biggest African-American newspapers, The Washington Afro, has been reporting extensively on key races, that could increase black representation in Congress. Senior reporter James Wright is keeping a close eye on Maryland, where Republican candidate Michael Steele is running for U.S. Senate. “There’s also Anthony Brown, the black candidate running for Lt. Governor on the Democratic ticket with Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley running for Governor,” Wright adds. It’s hoped that Brown, being African-American, will deliver black votes for O’Malley. Wright points out, “the problem is the black vote is no longer just squarely into the Democratic column...the question is turn-out,” Wright says. 

“The black vote is a swing vote in a lot of these statewide elections,” Wright says. He believes that if even one house of Congress changes hands, it will be due to the black vote. 

Even if most political pundits see this election as a referendum on the Bush administration and the Iraq war, Wright believes that for the black community it’s actually a referendum “on Hurricane Katrina, and the way black people were mistreated.” Victims are still waiting for their money from FEMA, and many residents want to go back home but have nothing left to return to in Louisiana. Among African-American voters, Wright says, “Mr. Bush’s response to Katrina destroyed him.”