EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The next Senate can help more low-income Americans get health insurance and migrants secure legal status. Or it can continue being an obstacle for these things to happen, Latino leaders say.
That’s why they’re rallying voters in the January runoff elections in Georgia, which will determine which party holds a Senate majority. They’re setting up telephone and text message banks and sending 25 volunteers from Texas and other places on a get-out-to-vote campaign.
“If Democrats win Georgia there’s a strong likelihood we could get immigration reform passed in the first 100 days, funding that would allow Latino students left behind by the digital divide to catch up, and then there’s health care,” said Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
President-elect Joe Biden ran on a campaign promise to present an immigration reform plan that includes the legalization of most undocumented immigrants in the first three months of his administration. But such a plan would need support in both houses of Congress, and Republicans have opposed the part about legalization.
The Senate stands at 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats and independents after the Nov. 3 elections. Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock in a Jan. 5 runoff election for the two Senate seats from Georgia.
LULAC says 300,000 eligible voters of Hispanic descent live in Georgia and will be the target of get-out-to-vote campaigns that include radio ads in Spanish, calls, texts and door-to-door visits, when appropriate under COVID-19 protocols. The Pew Center estimates that 5% of the electorate in Georgia is Hispanic.
Either number could make the difference in a close race. Perdue edged Ossoff by less than 2 percentage points (49.7% to 47.9%) on Nov. 3 but failed to get to 50% to avoid a runoff. Warnock was the top vote-getter in the other Senate race with 32.9% of the vote, compared to Loeffler’s 25.9%, but the two Republicans in the race got more combined votes than the two Democrats.
LULAC says it’s getting involved in the issues, not in politics. Hispanics lack health insurance more than any other ethnic group and would benefit from an expansion in funding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) or the implementation of Medicare for all, its leadership says.
And when it comes to immigration reform, most of the undocumented population is from Latin America, so that is a top priority for mixed-status Latino families in the U.S.
“I hope that we would see bipartisanship, but we see that certain Republicans have been obstructive to Latino families,” Garcia said.
Separately, former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, has been making the rounds with labor union members in Georgia and last Sunday held an early-voting kickoff rally in Marietta.
“We need to gain a tie in the Senate and if we win these two, guess what happens? It’s 50-50. That means when we want to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, we can do it,” he said during his visit.
He added that Biden can issue executive orders to open the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs to more qualified migrants and probably stop most deportation as well.
“But we can’t do comprehensive immigration reform. We can’t end this nightmare that our undocumented community has to confront unless we work legislatively, unless we pass a law that our president can sign,” Gutierrez said.
LULAC officials are holding a dialogue with Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Mitt Romney of Utah on issues of importance to Hispanic constituents.
But they’re also busy making coalitions with other minority groups pushing for change and joining the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal efforts against alleged voter suppression through purging tens of thousands of mostly young, minority and low-income people from electoral rolls.