League of United Latin American Citizens Hears From Democratic Candidates

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 8:00 pm
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Latino voter turnout surged last year over previous midterms, and Democrats won more than two-thirds of those votes. In 2020, Latinos could be the largest minority voting group in the U.S. So activists are getting organized. This week, several thousand met in Milwaukee for the annual conference of LULAC - that's the League of United Latin American Citizens - to hear from presidential candidates. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben was there, too.

DANIELE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Maria D’Amezcua emigrated from Mexico in 1975 and became a citizen in the 1980s. And that timing influenced her first vote for president when Ronald Reagan was on the ballot.

MARIA D’AMEZCUA: I am a Republican. I vote for Reagan because thanks to him, we become citizen. Everybody in my family become citizen, too.

KURTZLEBEN: She's still a Republican, but she came to this year's LULAC conference to hear Democratic candidates like Julian Castro and Bernie Sanders appeal to Latino voters. D’Amezcua hasn't settled on which Democrat she likes best, but she's pretty sure of one thing - just as she didn't vote for Trump in 2016, she won't vote for him in 2020.

D’AMEZCUA: The fact is I don't know what kind of problem he have. Well, he have certain resentment against minorities.

KURTZLEBEN: President Trump used immigration to fire up his base in 2016. Three years later, his policies like family separation have enraged and energized many Democratic voters. And Trump loomed especially large over this conference with news about the possibility of a citizenship question on the census, as well as coming immigration raids in major U.S. cities. This morning, LULAC members staged a protest of the administration's detention practices.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice.

KURTZLEBEN: Immigration is a key issue for Latino voters, but just like it's said in every election, it's far from the only top issue. A recent poll from advocacy group UnidosUS found that health care and the economy are also high on Latinos' lists. But given Trump's controversial policies, immigration could overshadow plenty of other issues as 2020 approaches - and not just for Latinos. At this conference, though, attendees over and over again brought up education and how it's inextricably linked to economic policy. Those concerns go well beyond the high-profile topic of student debt, according to LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides.

SINDY BENAVIDES: I would say pre-K as well. You know, that's so important, especially because Latinos are young. Our median age is 27 years and younger. And so, you know, we're in a reproductive state where we're having children, and that matters to us.

KURTZLEBEN: To a certain degree, energizing Latino voters is increasingly about energizing young voters. Latino voters tend to be younger than the rest of the electorate. And young voters are more Latino overall. Turnout among young and Latino voters did jump last year. In fact, the number of Latino voters leapt by a stunning 72% over the prior midterms, according to the Pew Research Center. That largely benefited Democrats. In Benavides' opinion, 2016 was a wakeup call.

BENAVIDES: We also have seen how much it hurts when we don't turn out to vote. And making sure that we are not silent and that we elect the candidate that represents our values and that will stand by our side.

KURTZLEBEN: Even with 2018's record turnout, though, less than half of eligible Latinos came out to vote. Democrats in particular will be eager to turn more of them out in 2020. Angel Rosales, who will attend the University of Chicago this fall, said he's been working on increasing turnout under his own roof.

ANGEL ROSALES: So I live in a family of eight and a house of eight. And there's only two voters, but there's, like, six eligible voters. And I've tried to talk to them. I've told them how important their vote is.

KURTZLEBEN: At least when it comes to the primary, Rosales doesn't seem concerned about who they would vote for. He really likes Elizabeth Warren but also says that he will support whichever Democrat wins the nomination. Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.