Commentary: The sleeping giant is awake and immigration is the wake-up call

Aldo Bello, Producer-director of "DREAM: An American Story"
Julie Martinez shows off her stars and stripes headband after voting in Alexandria, Virginia on November 6, 2012. UPI/Molly Riley
Julie Martinez shows off her stars and stripes headband after voting in Alexandria, Virginia on November 6, 2012. UPI/Molly Riley | License Photo

In this election, the Latino vote represented 10 percent of the overall electorate, hitting double digits for the first time in American history. The Obama campaign captured 71 percent of Latino voters, compared to the Romney campaign, who captured just 27 percent: a 44 percent difference between the two candidates.

The percentage of the national Latino electorate grew from 8 percent in 2004, when George W. Bush was able to capture 44 percent of the Latino vote, to 9 percent in 2008, when McCain captured 31 percent of the Latino vote.


In combination, the two trends show that from 2004 to 2012, the Latino electorate grew from 8 to 10 percent and the Republican party’s share of the Latino vote went down from 44 to 27 percent in the same period.

State by state, voting trends mirrored the national story, with some variations, most notably in Florida, where voting trends are heavily influenced by the Cuban American population. But even in Florida, the growing influence of the non-Cuban population was definitely felt, as “Obama carried Florida’s Hispanic vote 60 to 39 percent, an improvement over his 57 to 42 percent showing in 2008.”

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The Obama campaign captured 11 of the 12 battleground states, including Florida, in large part due to the Latino vote.

The tone of the immigration debate in this race was pivotal, and Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign miscalculated how important it was to the Latino electorate when they decided to take a hard line stance on the issue, believing that Hispanic Americans cared more about the economy, healthcare and education. And yes, polling showed that Hispanic Americans do indeed care about the economy, healthcare and education, mirroring the rest of the American electorate. But what the Romney camp failed to take into consideration is that the immigration question, clothed as it was in a negative stereotype of Hispanics as “illegals” and therefore, criminals, was a slap in the face of the growing Latino population of the United States. Candidate Romney’s extreme position on immigration sent a message that he did not care about the fate of undocumented immigrants living in this nation, and his insensitive “self-deportation” policy did not sit well with Latino voters. They clearly showed their displeasure when it came time to go to the polls.

As the Pew Hispanic Center states:

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Throughout this election cycle, the issue of immigration has been an important issue for Hispanics. In the national exit poll, voters were asked about what should happen to unauthorized immigrants working in the U.S. According to the national exit poll, 77 percent of Hispanic voters said these immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status while 18 percent said these immigrants should be deported.

But now the numbers are overwhelming and the message is clear: if the Republican Party continues to alienate the Latino vote with their regressive immigration platform, and refuses to come to the table to negotiate on immigration reform, they risk losing every single presidential race from now on.

As Arturo Vargus, executive director of membership organization NALEO, told Bloomberg Businessweek:

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If I were giving advice to the Republican Party, I would say: Work with the Obama administration and get immigration off the table by dealing with it now. Unless there is comprehensive immigration reform this will continue to come up over and over again, and become the Republican Party’s Achilles heel.

One simply has to look at the census data to understand that these demographic changes will continue to accelerate. Every month, 50,000 American Latinos turn 18 and become eligible voters. If the Republican Party wants to remain a viable party, at least at the national level, it needs to reach out to Latino voters with a new message: that the party of Reagan is once again willing to reasonably compromise on a solution that will provide a legal path for 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants. The Republican party needs to be a part of the solution to fixing our broken immigration system.


And after the election, the mandate is clear for both parties.

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As David Leopold wrote for the Huffington Post:

By reelecting President Obama and, at the same time, retaining a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, the American people -- including a whopping 70-plus percent plus of Latino voters -- have directed both parties to work together to implement Mr. Obama's vision. The electorate spoke loud and clear Tuesday, ordering Washington to put aside partisan politics and overhaul America's broken immigration system so that our families remain safe and together, our businesses regain their competitive edge in the global economy and due process is restored and protected. Amid the incessant post-election punditry and analysis one thing is crystal clear; the American people have demanded positive immigration solutions and an end to the anti-immigrant/Latino extremism that has polluted the immigration debate.

Historians will look back on this election cycle as a marker for the beginning of the New America. The demographic change is permanent, undeniable and something that politicians will have to deal with from now on, not just in 2050 when it is predicted that Hispanics will make up 29 percent of the population, but right now.

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2013 will be looked upon as a pivotal year in which the conversation – the one that led to a permanent solution of our nation’s currently flawed immigration system – began.


Aldo Bello is an award-winning documentary film director and television producer and co-owner of Mind & Media, Inc, a strategic communications and media company located in Alexandria, VA. He directed and produced the documentary film, "DREAM: An American Story."

In 1999, Bello created and was co-executive producer of the public television series Frontiers of Medicine, a 39-part magazine style series that ran in the top 19 of 20 television markets until 2002. In 2002, Bello partnered with the Dr. Spock Company in the creation of Parent Sense, an eight-part television series that was also nationally distributed via public television. Shortly after graduating from the University of Maryland with a Master’s degree in Radio, Television & Film, Bello founded Mind & Media, Inc. with his wife, Dr. Marilyn Finnemore. Since 1994, Mind & Media has been providing comprehensive media strategy and full production services to help its federal government, commercial and non-profit clients solve complex communication challenges in the arenas of public information, recruitment and training.


Bello immigrated to the United States in 1974 from Santiago, Chile.


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