LOS ANGELES - U.S. citizens of Latin American descent, or Latinos, could play an important role in the midterm elections November 4, when Americans vote for members of the U.S. House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and other state and local officials around the country. In states like California, Latinos are a core constituency for Democrats, but both parties face a challenge in getting their vote.
Latino activists signed up new voters at a citizenship ceremony, targeting newly minted U.S. citizens like Roberto Hernandez. He registered as a voter with help from his son Jose, who is already a citizen and a voter.
Hernandez wants a bigger voice and "better things" for the millions of undocumented residents of the country.
"Give them an opportunity," he said. "No discrimination. We should all be treated equal.”
In 2008 and 2012, many Latinos pinned their hopes on President Barack Obama, a Democrat who promised comprehensive immigration reform. However, the president ran into strong opposition from Congressional Republicans who are demanding a secure border and also oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants
Latino activists, who are mostly Democrats, are disappointed and angry. They question what President Obama has done on immigration reform.
In a news conference, activists from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles asked,“What has President Obama done? Nothing....”
They highlighted the plight of Latino families with some members who are citizens and others undocumented.
Lauren Diegues, whose grandfather and uncle face deportation, is a citizen and voter and says she's unhappy with the president.
“I am," she said, "because now that I lived it, now I know how other families feel.”
Dean Bonner of the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-partisan research group, says California Hispanics tend to be Democrats, with smaller numbers of Republicans and independents. But he says California Hispanics, regardless of party affiliation, are evenly divided among conservative, liberal and centrist voters.
He says President Obama's popularity is dropping across the board, and that could hurt Democrats in the election.
“We have been seeing a steady erosion of his approval among Latinos," he said. "While three in four right before the election in 2012 were approving of his job performance, today that number is 50 percent.”
Activists who represent Hispanics, those whose origins are from Spanish-speaking countries, say voters respond to politicians who address their concerns, including the economy, education, health care and immigration.
Hector Barreto of the Hispanic Business Roundtable Institute says Latinos could swing the results in many states.
“Colorado, for example, has a large Hispanic population, North Carolina has, even Arkansas has an Hispanic population," he said. "So neither one of those two parties can take those for granted, and Hispanics will continue to play a pivotal role in every election, whether that be a local, state or national, whether it be mid-term or presidential.”
Hispanic voters were just eight percent of the electorate two years ago, when fewer than half of the eligible Hispanics actually voted. Activists are working to boost turnout this time by registering new voters and urging them to vote.