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Growing Latino population influences Democrats AND Republicans

Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

First, on the GOP side:

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said on Tuesday that he believes undocumented young people who entered the United States as children should be given legal residence and, eventually, citizenship, in what marks a reversal for the congressman who voted against the Dream Act less than three years ago.

‘A good place to start is with the kids,’ he said of immigration reform during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. ‘One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.’

Cantor’s speech was part of a renewed effort to present a kinder, gentler GOP, particularly with regard to immigration.”

Coming from the Number 2 in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives — the same man most people believe to be gunning for Speaker Boehner’s job, and who just a few weeks ago publicly opposed the speaker by voting against the fiscal cliff deal — his shift toward the middle on immigration and the adoption of a much softer tone is no small news.

Cantor and other Republicans in the House seem to realize that while the gerrymandering that allowed the chamber to remain under Republican control — even though the Democrats won a million more votes (literally, a million) — should allow the GOP to keep control of the House till the next round of gerrymandering following the 2020 Census, their tactic will only prove successful for so long. Soon, the growing Latino population, 50,000 of which turn 18 each month, will further the Democratization (big “B”) we’ve been witnessing since 2000.

Which brings me to the Dem side of things:

“[U]nions are one of the groups most forcefully advocating for a guest worker program that will make it easier for them to come to the country, and for employers who need them to be able to bring them here. A key motivator for unions is that their viability and membership may depend more and more on immigrant workers – Latino union membership grew 21 percent over the last decade, while white, non-Latino membership dropped by 13 percent.

Now, labor and business are working together on the issue that so bitterly divided them.

The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have been tasked by Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York with reaching a deal, within weeks, that Schumer and a bipartisan Senate group on immigration could incorporate into legislation now taking shape, officials say.”

For decades the unions were in staunch opposition to a guest worker program that would allow immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, to work in the United States on a temporary basis. Bringing in nonunion, non-American workers to do the same jobs that many American union workers were doing was viewed as a form of union busting, tantamount to hiring scabs to lessen the effect of a strike.

Now, realizing that much of their membership is Latino — and will be increasingly so in the next decades — and that many Latino Americans personally know and sympathize with an undocumented person, unions have decided to change their tune and support efforts to alleviate the legal strains on immigrant workers.

This is all caused by Latinos merely becoming 17 percent of the population and 10 percent of the electorate.

But the paths to agency are education and political participation, two areas in which Latinos lag behind the rest of the country.

While Latino high-school graduation rates did see a 10-percent jump, from 61 percent in 2006 to 71 percent in 2010, Latinos still graduate below the national average of 78 percent. And there’s a 14-point gap between the college graduation rates of Latinos and non-Latino students.

Eligible Latino voters went to the polls last November at a rate of about half, which is far less than the two out of three blacks and whites who cast their ballots in 2012.

Imagine how the nation’s policies and priorities might change if Latinos started graduating from high school and college at the average rates and began voting at the average turnout percentage.

Our numbers have affected a lot of change thus far, but we still need to do a better job of putting our numbers to good use.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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