Advocates push for Latino voter turnout on Colorado’s Western Slope
Immigrant Rally at Garfield County Courthouse Friday
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and SOUL will rally at the Garfield County Courthouse at 6:15 p.m. Friday for a vigil to support immigration reform and encourage voters to elect pro-immigrant legislators when casting their ballots Nov. 8.
“Local families, allies, organizations and supporters will light sky lanterns and release them with messages of hope to keep their families together,” according to CIRC. “Children will speak out about how family separation impacts them and their families. Candles will be lit to keep spirits and hope alive for immigration reform.”
With the election a week and a half away, advocates are pushing for solid voter turnout in the Latino community.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition has been working to register as many eligible voters as it can, but now in the homestretch their efforts are transitioning into a get out the vote campaign.
And the Hispanic Affairs Project, based out of Montrose, reports significant increases in the number of Hispanic immigrants applying for citizenship, specifically to participate in the Nov. 8 election.
“We need to say thank you very much to Donald Trump,” said Ricardo Perez, executive director of the Hispanic Affairs Project. Trump’s campaign has inspired many people in the immigrant community to become naturalized citizens so they can participate on Nov. 8, he said.
Not just on the Western Slope, but across the country, immigrants have been applying for citizenship so they can cast their votes in this election, Perez added.
Specific numbers for voter turnout among Latinos in Garfield County are unclear. Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico said voter registration forms do not capture that information, so it’s difficult to say what the Latino voter turnout is like.
But about 49 percent of the 1.1 million Hispanics in Colorado are eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center.
And Garfield County also has a higher percentage of Latinos than the state as a whole, said Sophia Clark, Rocky Mountain Region organizer for CIRC. While Latinos account for 21 percent of Colorado’s population, Garfield County is at about 30 percent.
The Colorado state demographer came to Garfield County this summer, and part of her presentation focused on the county’s growing Latino population.
Looking at the population by generations, the younger you look, the more that generation is made up of Hispanics and other minorities. Younger generations are more diverse than older generations, and by 2040 minority groups are expected to make up about 45 percent of Colorado’s population.
Some estimates project that tens of thousands of Latino people in the U.S. turn 18 each month.
Clark, who’s been working to register voters, said she’s encountered an overall dissatisfaction with the presidential race, but Latino voters are motivated by important issues at the state and local level.
“A lot of the issues that most affect Latino immigrants in Colorado right now are not going to be decided by the president. Immigration reform, for example, is going to be decided by Congress, not the president.”
However, the next president will influence whether the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is continued or discontinued, and that’s going to affect a lot of young people, said Clark.
With no big immigration issue on the Colorado ballot, Latino voters are concentrating on elected officials who will set policy.
For example, immigrants are attentive to what will happen with Colorado driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants. Earlier this year a state bill that would have increased the number of DMV offices offering these specialized licenses was killed in a Republican controlled state Senate committee.
Clark said the immigrant driver’s license program also has a cap of 66,000 appointments which is expected to be reached next year. After that point, the number of DMV offices offering these licenses would automatically be reduced from three to one.
“That would be devastating, and we’re trying to prevent that. And it’s going to depend on the state Legislature.”
“The folks participating in (CIRC’s voter registration) effort are both paid staff and volunteers who are undocumented and U.S. citizens. So there’s definitely been a big effort this fall,” said Clark.
Over the next couple weeks CIRC will be phoning registered Latino voters to encourage them to cast ballots and to lend assistance, such as for finding and getting to ballot drop-off locations.
Regardless of who gets elected, no matter from which party, they’re going to continue experiencing pressure from the Latino community and advocates, said Clark.
Clark and Perez said the Latino community is going to become more and more influential in future elections.
“You don’t have to be a citizen to be civically engaged, to lobby elected officials and the advocate for what you’re community needs,” said Clark.
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