Latino Population Growth Could Have Impact in Iowa

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Washington Post, September 12, 2012

Latino Population Growth Could Have Impact in Iowa

Residents interviewed downtown, where the insurance agency and bar advertise in both English and Spanish, say they feel betrayed because Obama didn’t deliver on campaign promises to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Many praised Obama’s executive order halting deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, but others see it as a political move that could be undone.

Nereida Velez, 23, said she would vote for Obama if she could. Born in Mexico, she moved to Arizona as a child and her family later settled in West Liberty to find work: her father as a painter, her mother at the turkey plant. She is applying for Obama’s program to defer the possibility of deportation while she works to become a resident.

“Since we are Latinos, he offers more opportunities for us,” said Velez, a stay-at-home mother of a 2-year-old girl who was getting her hair done in downtown West Liberty. “I like him.”

Turkey plant worker Erika Reyes, 19, said she hasn’t made up her mind. She’s upset with Obama, but knows little about Romney.

“Obama has been saying what he wants to do, but he didn’t do it once he was elected,” said Reyes, sitting on a downtown bench with her 7-month-old daughter. “People actually believed in him, and I don’t know what to think now.”

Obama easily carried Iowa in 2008, but the state voted heavily Republican in midterm elections two years later. Republican George W. Bush barely won the state in 2004, after Democrat Al Gore narrowly defeated him in 2000.

Obama volunteers cite the president’s program to help young illegal immigrants, the health care reform law and increases in college aid as good for Latinos. Republicans argue that Romney can boost the economy, noting high unemployment rates among Latinos, and appeal to Latinos on conservative social issues such as abortion.

“Both parties understand the numbers,” said Mark LeRette, the GOP chairman in Muscatine County, which has one of the state’s largest Latino populations. “This could be a close election, and that’s going to be a cross-section that could help decide it.”

LeRette, who hands out bilingual campaign literature at the county fair and summer parades, calls Latinos “a naturally conservative community.” He hopes Republicans are doing enough to court Latino voters.

For many Latinos, the choice will be between a president they feel has ignored them and a challenger who could be worse, said Ila Plasencia, 85, of West Des Moines.

“I’m not happy with either one, but if Mitt Romney gets in, I think it’s going to be hell for the Latinos. He wants to do a lot of things that is contrary to what we want,” said Plasencia, an influential community activist who runs a nonprofit that helps new citizens and promotes education.

Obama is trying to patch up hard feelings. In a three-day trip to Iowa in August, he had a campaign rally in Marshalltown, a city of 28,000 with a sizable Latino population. His campaign created a council of 26 Latino leaders to mobilize voters.

LULAC, a nonpartisan group, is contacting Hispanic voters and asking them to help find family members to register. Organizers will set up booths at upcoming Latino festivals in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Fort Madison. The goal of signing up another 15,000 Latino voters should be achievable, said LULAC state director Joe Henry.

“When it comes to the Latino community in Iowa, neither political party has ever done an aggressive campaign like this,” he said. “It’s significant for us, and I think it’s significant for the election.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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