Will Arizona's immigration law motivate Latino voters?

As the controversial law kicks in, residents and law enforcement officials struggle to make sense of the situation in the town of Benson, Ariz.
By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 4:49 PM

Groups that have been working to increase turnout among Hispanic voters are pondering this question: Are they mad enough?

Polls predict low turnout among Latinos in November, but Hispanic civil rights and civic participation organizations are hoping outrage over "anti-immigrant" rhetoric and the uptick in laws targeting illegal immigrants will counter apathy in the electorate.

The groups are pushing voter turnout with an ad campaign they are calling "Vote for Respect."

The campaign, which was released Wednesday and will air on Spanish-language media, is a stark black-and-white video with the faces of many Latinos saying they "believe in the promise of America."

"We know that Latinos have tended to lag behind other groups, and we are committed to changing that equation," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, which has brought together a coalition of Hispanic community groups. "In our conversations at the community level there's a deep sense of urgency about the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino environment, and that could potentially win out."

She and others point to Arizona, where a stringent immigration law passed earlier this year, as a center of what they see as an attack on immigrants. The law, called SB 1070, requires police to check for immigration status in some circumstances. Immigrant rights groups have decried the law as racial profiling, though supporters say it is a necessary measure for curbing illegal immigration.

Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, compared the Arizona law to California's Proposition 187 - which sought to prohibit illegal immigrants from using most public services in the state. It was passed in 1994 but was later deemed unconstitutional by a federal court. The debate around that legislation is credited with galvanizing the Latino vote in California.

"Today there is no elected official in California that does not have to have Latino support," Monterroso said. "In Arizona, we are finding Latinos are ready to vote. In the mind of our community it is a real threat. We are ready to ensure we are respected."

His group has registered 21,000 Hispanic voters in Arizona to mail in absentee ballots beginning next week, and Monterroso is predicting between 65,000 and 75,000 more Hispanics will vote in the state's November midterms compared with those in 2006.

Brent Wilkes, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed that the Arizona law is still reverberating with Hispanic voters though it has fallen out of national news. LULAC has had voter registration tables set up at festivals, grocery stores and other locations in 22 states and the Arizona law keeps coming up, he said.

In the state, many have been focused on voter registration, said Ana Valenzuela Estrada, who is a LULAC state director based in Tucson. "We want people that are going to be able to represent us. It's not just about statewide races. It's about the state legislature," she said. "The mood is very, very strong."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company