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La Liga de Las Americas

Politicians woo immigrant votes for next election

COLUMBUS, Dec. 2, 2007 (AP): Politicians are wooing votes from immigrant communities such as Ohio’s Latino communities and Somali immigrant communities, a move that could influence next year’s U.S. presidential election.

Eligible voters come from Ohio’s Latino population, estimated between 40,000 and 60,000 in Franklin County, and large numbers in Lucas, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Hamilton, and Montgomery counties. But unlike Somali refugees in Central Ohio, whose status puts them on a direct path to permanent residency, many Latinos are without documentation said Joseph Mas, chairman of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition and former head of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA).

Latino immigrants come from all over Central America—México, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic—so although Latinos often unite on issues such as immigration and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, politicians cannot count on a bloc vote, he said.

Many immigrants are focused on issues tied to their home countries, said Louis DeSipio, an associate professor at the University of California-Irvine who has studied immigrant voting patterns for 20 years. Cubans, for example, use their votes to influence U.S. policy toward Fidel Castro, while Mexicans may be concerned about the rights of undocumented immigrants.

In Columbus, the Somali community is conservatively estimated at 45,000 and growing. Nearly 8,500 naturalized citizens from Somalia and other African countries have been registered to vote in the Columbus area, and as many as 30,000 will be eligible voters by 2010, said Mahdi Taakilo, president of Helping Africans in a New Direction and the Somali Link newspaper.

Increasingly, politicians are realizing the sway new voters may have, especially from a community that is known for its interest in politics. Somalis “never talk about anything else,” said Hassan Omar, 47, president of the Somali Community Association of Ohio.

Democratic Party leaders strive to unite immigrant groups by focusing on “kitchen table issues” such as improving schools, health care, and economic issues, said Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Randy Borntrager. These issues bring people together because they benefit the community as a whole, he said.

Recently, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown hosted a town hall meeting with selected Latino leaders in the Toledo area at the headquarters of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. Brown has scheduled another at the South Toledo library on December 14, 2007. 

A Pew Hispanic Center poll released on Dec. 6, 2007 indicate that Latinos are returning to the Democratic Party after several years of drifting toward the Republicans, with many saying George W. Bush administration policies have been harmful to their community.

It is probably this reason that a majority of the Republican candidates for president reconsidered their initial rejection of a debate broadcasted in Spanish, hosted by Univision and the University of Miami, held on Dec. 9, 2007. The Democratic candidates experienced theirs on Sept. 9.  

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com and Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report. 





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