Democrats have relied on Latino voters to deliver in Georgia. After this election, Democrats need to deliver big in return.
I'm an immigrant from Mexico, a woman of color, and an organizer with decades of experience organizing Latino communities in the South. In short, I'm not the type of person Beltway bigwigs usually turn to for sage political counsel.
But with the Georgia runoff elections today and control of the U.S. Senate hanging in the balance, I have some unsolicited advice for Democrats: If they want to drive up Latino voter turnout and win in Georgia, Joe Biden needs to deliver on immigration.
"Immigration is high on the agenda for Georgia's Latino voters. I hear it every time I talk to my neighbors, the clerks in our grocery stores, and the college students working on their degrees from home."Democratic Party operatives and cable news pundits might be tempted to think that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock can take the Latino vote for granted. Not so.
Latino voters here are skeptical of the Democratic Party's immigration politics. We remember Barack Obama—and his dutiful vice president—as Deporters-in-Chief. We're repulsed by the caging of migrant children that was grotesquely expanded by the Trump Administration, but we have no interest in returning the Obama-Biden Administration policies that permanently damaged our communities. We haven't forgotten that Democrats also tore migrant families apart.
Truth be told, I'm afraid Latino voter turnout in the Georgia runoffs will be dampened because of our rightful skepticism of Democratic immigration policy. I'm hearing it at the doors and on the phones already.
To flip Georgia blue in November's presidential election, Mijente, a Latino social justice organization, and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, a decades-old Latino civil rights organization, have collaborated on the largest Latino-voter outreach program in Georgia's history.
When the surprise runoff was announced, we kicked into high gear. In the last seven weeks, we have made more than 760,000 attempted voter contacts—including knocking on nearly 280,000 doors.
The lessons we've learned are clear: one in four voters they've contacted rank immigration as their top issue—more than any other issue.
In Georgia, nearly half of all Latinos are immigrants. The majority of Latino voters come from mixed status families—families where one member might be a citizen, another a resident, and still another might be undocumented. And in many ways, the counties surrounding Atlanta have been ground zero for Trump's vicious immigration policies. Over the past four years, Gwinnett County—just northeast of Atlanta—has had more immigrants detained than any county not located along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Naturally, immigration is high on the agenda for Georgia's Latino voters. I hear it every time I talk to my neighbors, the clerks in our grocery stores, and the college students working on their degrees from home.
The legacy of the Democratic Party's failures on immigration—from Bill Clinton's disastrous 1996 immigration bill to Janet Napolitano's reign of terror as DHS secretary—has damaged the Party's reputation for Latinos—even for politicians who are true allies of immigrant communities.
In 2018, when I went door-to-door for Stacey Abrams's gubernatorial campaign, the most common response I got after touting her immigration stances was: "How can we believe her? We've trusted Democrats before and they've turned their backs on us."
But all is not lost.
Latinos turned out for Joe Biden in Georgia—widening critical margins in an extremely narrow contest. And we are willing to go out and vote for Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
There's no question that our community will fare better under their leadership than with Republicans in charge—that's why we're running such an ambitious independent campaign to get them elected. But we need to know that they will repay us by fighting for the policies that matter to our families.
We need to hear directly from the Democratic Party leader, President-elect Joe Biden, that Democrats will take aggressive and immediate action to protect our communities. That must begin with a 100 day blanket moratorium on all immigration enforcement actions—including deportations, apprehensions, and arrests, and an immediate, thorough, and wide-ranging investigation into human rights abuses perpetrated by the Department of Homeland Security.
So far, the Biden transition team has disappointed.
During the campaign, Biden had promised to issue bold executive orders to protect migrants and asylum seekers at the border on day one of his presidency. Now? The transition says they'll wait months before taking action.
Immigration reform was also excluded from Biden's top four policy priorities. According to NPR, the Biden transition team "felt that immigration activists had become too adversarial."
This is bad policy and bad politics, a miscalculation that could lead to disillusioned and frustrated Democratic-leaning Latino voters staying home Tuesday, a move that could throw the Georgia elections—and the Senate—to the GOP.
Should Democrats lose both seats in Georgia, Biden would become the first Democratic president since 1885 years to enter office without his party's control of both chambers of Congress.
To avert that political nightmare, Democrats need to energize Latino voters and ensure they show up to the polls today. And Biden going big on immigration is the surest way to get them there.
They can take this advice from an organizer who's been on the ground for decades in Georgia. Or they can reject it and rely on the advice of the Washington political consulting class.
The ball is in their court.