Latino voters in Georgia

Democrats Should Listen to David Frum If They Want to Lose Elections

by
on January 22, 2021

Biden’s Immigration Policy as Voter Enfranchisement: A Coalition of Latinx Voters and Newly Naturalized Citizens Will Be the Next Georgia Swing

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, conservative David Frum brought the stench of xenophobia to Twitter. He warned Democrats not to give a pathway to residency to the Latinx frontline workers who have gotten the nation through the worst health crisis of our era because it will open the floodgates to more immigrants on the border.  In other words, Frum, a Never Trump Republican, attempted to launch a Democratic version of the baffling ‘taco truck on every street corner’ argument. 

Frum’s argument misses the point. First, he raises a false spectre of uncontrolled migration along one of the most militarized and highly patrolled borders in the world. Frum overlooks the fact that interceptions on the border have increased in recent years, even as ever fewer economic migrants attempt entry, and asylum claims on the border are denied at record rates. Second, Frum conflates a theoretical spike in new border crossings with the needs of a resident population of immigrants who are already woven into the fabric of American society. Over 60% of immigrants who stand to benefit from immigration reforms under the Biden administration have resided in the US for at least 10 years

Under current immigration law, the balance of legal equities is tipped in favor of millions of long term residents whose American citizen children will soon be of voting age as well as of age to petition for their parents’ naturalization. If there is one lesson for the Democratic party to learn from the 2020 election, it is the urgent need to correct the party’s vision as it has struggled to fully engage voters of color. In the coming election cycle, Democrats will heed Frum’s advice at their own peril as Latinx youth come of age, and bring their parents to the voting booth with them.

Trump meets the Border Patrol
Trump inspects the Border Patrol. Image courtesy of the White House

A Fad for Each Election Cycle 

Over the past two presidencies, and in the wake of each new election cycle, US politics has grown momentarily besotted, rightly or wrongly, with newfound demographic darlings. Pundits attributed Obama’s win to a kumbaya coalition of diverse voters. Many neo-nazi ride-alongs and hillbilly elegies later, analysts continue to fetishize the voting power of the white working class, the bloc commonly touted as giving to Trump his 2016 victory. More recently, Black voters, particularly Black women have been depicted as the proverbial David to Goliath after they successfully mobilized the greatest Black electoral turnout in history. These efforts won the Georgia Senatorial runoffs for the Democrats.

The post-win analysis of the Georgia special election revealed a country dumbfounded at the prospect that Black organizers, including Stacey Abrams, Nse Ufot, and LaTosha Brown, as well as Black organizations, including Black Voters MatterFair Fight, and The New Georgia Project, could have turned out enough Black voters to elect both the first Black Georgian and first Jewish Georgian senators in the peach state’s history. Brown characterized the victory as indicative of a region reborn: “Georgia is a new South state. There’s a new South rising. It’s younger, it’s more diverse, it’s more progressive, and it’s more inclusive” 

Stacey Abrams and Nancy Pelosi
Stacey Abrams & Nancy Pelosi, by Office of U.S. House Speaker

Where did these organizers find so many eligible Black voters? Some observers, unable to fathom the decades-long community organizing and grassroots canvassing behind the Georgia win, could only imagine a supernatural explanation for Stacey Abrams’ ability to turn a Southern state blue. Lost on these pundits was the basic arithmetic behind Stacey Abrams’ gambit: We had 800,000 unregistered people of color, 600,000 of whom were African-American. We had this extraordinary opportunity to reach people who had never been engaged. They were new. And we were new. And we had to build instead of manifesting.” 

In order to locate new voters, one must be able to see them. Abrams et al saw voters of color and met them where they were. The Biden and Harris Administration, taking a page from Abrams’ playbook by consulting with politicians, organizers and organizations, appears poised to see at least some of what Latinx voters desire.

Beyond Voter Fetishization

Georgia serves as a lesson in shifting power, providing organizers with a road map for identifying and seating racially and ethnically minoritized candidates. This shift was contingent upon seeing the electorate as multi-racial, and the twenty-first century has given us the accepted axiom that young Latinxs, who will soon be coming of voting age, will determine the outcome of future US elections. The numbers reflect this potential: 40% of eligible Latinx voters are between 18 to 35, and Latinxs comprise at least 13% of all eligible US voters. However, the Latinx community has been historically undermobilized by traditional US party politics—largely because of a failure to listen to Latinx concerns. In essence, Latinx voters, like Black Georgians, are ripe for outreach, and they face the same electoral erasure as the Black Georgians Stacey Abrams made visible in 2020. 

Just as Abrams’s superpower was the ability to do arithmetic and put in hard work, organizers in battleground states must awaken to the reality that many first generation Latinx voters will open the halls of democracy to their entire community. If Black voters are suppressed by cumbersome voter registration requirements, felony disenfranchisement and modern poll taxes, the Latinx vote is suppressed by immigration gridlock, xenophobic policies, and the criminalization of undocumented workers in the American political imagination.

As with Georgia, the first step in enfranchising Latinx voters will be to make them visible. One difficulty in quantifying electoral potential resides in the xenophobic decision to exclude the undocumented from the latest iteration of the US Census, leaving us with only a rough estimate of 11 million, a Pew Research Center study estimating that 10.5 million immigrants await a path to authorized residency in the US. These numbers, largely stemming from waves of Southern Mexican and Central American immigration at the turn of the century, tell us the US is now on the cusp of a decade-long spike in naturalization, poised to bring stronger Latinx might to electoral politics. 

Latin America
Latin America by Buenos Dias from the Noun Project

To explain why US immigration law is itself key to the staggered entry of naturalized citizens into electoral politics, let’s follow a hypothetical: the parents of a first generation youth turning 21 in 2021 will be eligible for naturalized status within the next 6 years. Under US immigration law, citizens above 21 years old may petition to give permanent resident status to their foreign born parents. The increase in permanent residency is only the first step in a wider political shift: five years after attaining lawful permanent resident status, the parents of Gen-Z first generation voters will be eligible to become US citizens. This means that over the coming decade, millions of new Latinx citizens will be sworn and ready to vote.

In view of this legal and political reality, it is no surprise that Democrats are courting Latinx voters and making attempts to put immigrants on the swiftest possible path to authorized residency. Latinx youth are coming of age, and they are bringing naturalized citizens to the voting booth with them. The real story of the last election cycle is how the Republican party lost millions of voters when it branded itself as the most anti-Latinx party in US history.


Josephine Williams is a CA licensed attorney and a Certified Federal Court Interpreter (Spanish). She studied Public Interest and Public International Law at UCLA. She maintains a blog on technology, race and human rights at josewil2.medium.com. You can follow her on Twitter @yoyomorena