Advocates hope high Latino voter turnout will lead to immigration policy changes

November 8, 2012

Latino voters who turned out to the polls in unprecedented numbers on Election Day and helped propel President Obama to a second term are calling his reelection a victory — and a starting point for more permanent solutions to the nation’s immigration policies.

About 100 people representing immigrant groups gathered in front of the White House on Thursday with a message for the president:

“We got your back,” they chanted. “Now it’s time for you to have ours.”

The crowd was there to celebrate the passage of the “Dream Act” in Maryland and to push elected officials to pass comprehensive immigration reform immediately.

Veronica Sarvia, 17, said that as an undocumented immigrant, she has struggled to pay rising out-of-state tuition costs. She came to the United States from El Salvador at age 10. With the passage of the Maryland law, she now can pay in-state fees.

Sarvia said she now wants to see immigration reform. Her younger sister is a U.S. citizen and her grandmother is a permanent legal resident.

“I don’t want to leave my sister or my grandmother because I am undocumented,” she said. “Please, Mr. Obama, pass permanent immigration reform now because our families deserve happiness.”

Earlier in the day, organizers with United We Dream, a youth-led immigrant group, held a national call-in news conference in which they asked Republican and Democratic elected officials to work together to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented Latino immigrants in the country.

“We know the Latino vote was crucial in the president’s reelection,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream. “The president and both Democrats and Republicans need to come together to create change in immigration policy — and Dreamers will hold the president accountable on this.”

National exit polls showed that 10 percent of voters in Tuesday’s election were Hispanic, up from 9 percent fours years ago. Seventy-one percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama on Tuesday.

The president’s announcement in June that he would stop deporting some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children was a great mobilizer for Latino voters, said Daniel Rodriguez, who works with United We Dream in Arizona and came to the United States at age 7.

But deferred action isn’t enough, said Rodriguez, now 26 and a law student at Arizona State University.

Advocates said they will focus on permanent solutions for citizenship.

“Tearing families apart and deporting members of our community is irresponsible,” said Lorella Praeli, advocacy and policy director with United We Dream.

Organizers said they will begin reaching out to elected officials in both parties and that they will have a formal message to direct to Obama at the beginning of January.

“We proved what we can do with our movement at the polls,” Rodriguez said. “We now have a check to cash in 2013. We are expecting our elected officials to do something to unify our Latino families.”

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