WASHINGTON – For politicians interested in courting and winning the Latino vote,speaking a phrase or two in Spanish or mentioning immigration reform won't be enough.
Instead,political candidates need to learn about the other issues that matter to the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group,according to the National Council of La Raza,a Hispanic civil rights organization.
“The Latino vote will be a decisive element in determining who will be the president of the United States,” said Raul Yzaguirre,La Raza president. “It's up for grabs. Our vote cannot be taken for granted.”
La Raza released a report Tuesday that outlines the key concerns and legislative recommendations it says politicians need to support to win the Latino vote.
While some are distinctly Latino concerns,such as farm workers' rights and immigration,“many of the issues that interest Latinos interest the rest of America,” Yzaguirre said. These issues include counter terrorism policies,criminal justice,education,employment,health and homeownership.
While Hispanics account for more than 13 percent of the population,the group represented only 7 percent of voters in the 2000 presidential election,according to a U.S. Census report. About 40 percent of Latinos living in the United States are not citizens,and half of the Latino population is under 25.
La Raza recommends that politicians support increased funding to English-language learning programs and allow students who are illegal residents to gain easier access to higher education. Many states refuse in-state tuition to students who are not legal U.S. residents.
About six in 10 Hispanics ages 18 through 24 have completed high school,while eight in 10 blacks and nine in 10 whites in the same age group have done so. Whites 25 and over are nearly three times more likely than Hispanics to have a bachelor's degree.
The group asks public officials to support the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2004,” a proposal to ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide incentives to local and state law enforcement agencies to end the practice. The concern stems from statistics showing disproportionate incarceration of Latinos compared to non-Hispanic whites.
One of the main issues for Latinos is immigration reform. According to Census data,more than 40 percent of Hispanics living in the United States are foreign born. La Raza proposes a three-part immigration policy reform that would effectively grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who can prove they have lived and worked in the United States.
Last month,President Bush proposed an immigration policy that would grant undocumented foreign workers temporary legal status. His proposal was greeted with caution from various Hispanic rights groups,who said his plan needs a mechanism for those residents to become citizens. Some also said Bush was only trying to get the Latino vote.
“The Latino vote is very much a target for political parties,” Yzaguirre said. “Clearly this is a time when the Latino vote will count. There's a lot at stake.”