Growing up in Los Angeles as the son of a Mexican immigrant father who worked as a union meatpacker and a Nicaraguan mother who worked as a beautician, elections were special events for my family.
My dad loved volunteering to work the polls, and never missed an election. He’d sit down and carefully explain the issues of the day to me, no matter how complicated the proposition or ballot measure. He taught me that my vote was synonymous with my voice.
The recent 2018 midterms revealed that many of my fellow Americans believe the same thing—especially on the issue of immigration. One out of every four Latino voters and a majority of voters under 30 said they had never before voted in a midterm election, and both groups tend to be more progressive on immigration policy.
According to a 2016 study by the Pew Center, 76 percent of Millennials say immigrants strengthen the country, and 82 percent believe in a pathway toward citizenship for the undocumented. These new voters were drawn to candidates like Democrat TJ Cox in the 21st District who neither vilified, terrified nor dehumanized immigrants.
The hardline stance that many Republicans are taking on immigration is costing them. The affiliation with Trump’s border wall fixation and government shutdown is driving voters away, not bringing them closer.
Cox’s last-minute upset victory when all votes were finally counted on Nov. 28 flipped the Central Valley district from red to blue for the first time since 1980. David Valadao, the three-term, Tea Party-endorsed incumbent, lost. And although he was moderate on immigration — recently bucking his own party’s leadership to push for a House vote to protect DACA recipients, for instance — his stance wasn’t enough to win over voters dismayed at the broader GOP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
Even an immigration moderate like Valadao, in fact, cast his vote almost entirely — over 92 percent of the time — along GOP party lines. And that’s a problem when the national GOP is on a mission to curb immigration, and your district, like Valadao’s, is increasingly home to an energized, politically engaged Latino population.
In the last five years, the district gained 59,356 eligible Hispanic and Asian voters while losing 12,375 white voters, according to an analysis by the bipartisan nonprofit New American Economy. In fact, the district gained almost 17,000 new Asian and Hispanic voters between 2016 and 2018 alone—increasing their share of the electorate by 3.2 percentage points.
A similar pattern is playing out in many of the 43 districts nationwide that flipped from red to blue. In all but four of the districts that flipped, the share of Asian American and Hispanic American eligible voters increased in the last 5 years, according to NAE research. In all but one of the districts that flipped, the share of the white vote shrank.
Statewide, California’s foreign-born population grew by more than 525,000 people between 2010 and 2015. Today, immigrants represent about 27 percent of our state, the largest percentage in the country, according to NAE. That’s part of what makes our economy, the fifth largest in the world, so strong.
Half of the Fortune 500 companies in California were started by immigrants or their children, and immigrant-owned businesses employ 1,460,099 Californians, according to NAE. This isn’t surprising to me; as a social entrepreneur whose non-profit dispenses micro-loans to small businesses, and as a former board member of the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, I’ve seen scores of immigrant and Hispanic entrepreneurs launch successful ventures.
Both immigrant and native-born Californians understand how much immigrants contribute to our state’s economy and social fabric, which is why anti-immigration rhetoric and policies are backfiring here.
Last November, voters said no to the Republican Party’s veiled threats against our foreign-born neighbors and workers, and even moderate Republicans couldn’t shake off the bad stigma of the national GOP’s immigration messaging. Voters said no to damaging the economic productivity of our beautiful Golden State.
Voters here—many of them increasingly diverse and open-minded—have called for their representatives to be consistent in their support for immigrants. It’s time for our elected leaders to listen.
Heberto M. Sanchez is founder and president of Latino Educational Fund, a non-profit based in the greater Los Angeles region. He serves as an advisory board member for the California Organized Investment Network and has served on the board of directors for the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.