An analysis finds that they and their children could make up almost 30% of the state's electorate by 2012.
By Teresa Watanabe | Los Angeles Times
April 29, 2008
In the first detailed analysis of potential immigrant
voters and their children in California legislative
districts, a study to be released today shows they
could constitute nearly one-third of state voters by
The analysis, commissioned by a Bay Area immigrant
support group, is seen as a political road map to
maximize the state's pro-immigrant vote. It also
undergirds efforts to intensify political and civic
action to help immigrants better integrate into
society and win comprehensive legislative reforms,
long stalled in Congress.
"We hope policymakers will look at this data to see
who is in their district and how to best serve their
interests," said Daranee Petsod, executive director of
Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees, a
Sebastopol, Calif.-based organization.
"With these numbers, immigrants can invigorate our
Los Angeles County dwarfed all others with about 2.7
million potential pro-immigrant voters -- naturalized
U.S. citizens, legal immigrants eligible for
citizenship and their children ages 12 to 17 --
followed by Orange, Santa Clara and San Diego
counties. Statewide, the total was nearly 7.7 million.
In the Los Angeles area, the San Gabriel Valley had
the highest number of such potential voters.
The immigrant voters and their teenage children, who
are overwhelmingly Latino and Asian American, made up
about one-third of the electorate in state Assembly
and Senate districts held by Democrats and about
one-fifth of Republican districts.
The analysis was conducted by Rob Paral, a Chicago
demographer who charted a similar political road map
in Illinois. It was based on 2006 data from the U.S.
Census Bureau and Department of Homeland Security.
Joshua Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant
and Refugee Rights said Paral's work there has enabled
immigrant advocates to launch targeted political
action that has helped swing seven state legislative
districts and one congressional district from
Republican to Democratic since 2002.
Statewide, the Republican district with the largest
number of potential pro-immigrant voters is held by
state Sen. Bob Margett of Glendora. Nearly one-third
of his 29th District, which includes much of the San
Gabriel Valley, is made up of such potential voters.
But Margett co-sponsored efforts to create a state
border police force and voted against bills to give
driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and to
recognize the contributions of immigrants by declaring
May 1 as "The Great American Boycott 2006 Day."
In an interview, Margett said the number of potential
immigrant voters and their children in his district
were higher than he had imagined. But he said that
would not change his positions. He described himself
as a "law-and-order guy" who would support English
classes, naturalization assistance and other services
for legal immigrants but continue to oppose most
non-emergency services for illegal immigrants.
"I don't want to bend to the winds of political change
if it's a right-and-wrong issue, if it's a legal
issue," Margett said.
Advocates said the report underscores the need for
programs to help integrate immigrants into society,
such as English-language instruction and help
attaining citizenship. But state funds to support
naturalization programs have been cut by half in the
last decade to $3 million and are facing proposed cuts
of an additional 30%, said Reshma Shamasunder,
director of the California Immigrant Policy Center in
Aside from supporting more immigrant-friendly
policies, the state's rising immigrant voting force
also could boost efforts to increase funding for
schools, roads and other public services because
surveys show that they are more willing to accept tax
hikes to pay for them, said Louis Di- Sipio, a UC
Irvine political science professor.
DiSipio said immigrant voters already are influencing
local elections, such as the Los Angeles mayoral race,
but it would take time for them to become a decisive
vote statewide because they are still underrepresented
in the electorate. In 2004, for instance, non-Latino
adult whites were 47% of the state population but 65%
One new immigrant voter is Rebeca Canales, a
26-year-old El Salvador native and UC Davis law
student. The independent voter said immigration is a
key issue for her; one reason she backs Democratic
presidential candidate Barack Obama over Hillary
Clinton is that he supports driver's licenses for
undocumented immigrants and she does not.
The new political road map is one of the tools that
immigrant advocates plan to use in intensifying
campaigns to win legal status for illegal immigrants,
more family and work visas, and other measures to
comprehensively reform the immigration system.
In addition to more robust civic and political action,
they said they plan to better highlight immigrant
contributions to the nation and more aggressively
"name and shame" anti-immigrant ideologues.
"The implication is that all California policymakers,
regardless of political parties, will need to
understand that a growing share of their constituents
are U.S. citizen taxpayers who are foreign-born, and
demonizing the population does no one any good," said
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National
Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
Educational Fund in Los Angeles.