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OPed: Trump’s Effect on Latinos has begun

It was bound to happen once Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz began building their campaigns on a foundation of anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric and policy proposals:

Many thousands of legal Latino residents all around the nation began seeking U.S. citizenship so they could become registered voters and cast ballots against either Cruz or Trump, should either become the GOP’s nominee.

So far, the numbers are not staggering, the way they were in California after the easy passage of the 1994 Proposition 187, which sought to deprive the undocumented and their U.S. citizen children of taxpayer-funded services from public schooling to emergency room care and vaccinations.

Even as federal courts were throwing out virtually all of that ballot initiative, which passed with a 2-1 margin, 2.5 million new citizens were minted by the end of 1997 – just three years after passage of 187.

The reason, many told polltakers, was fear that if illegal immigrants could be targeted, legal ones might be next. Their only safety, they figured, was in citizenship.

No similar movement occurred in other parts of America, where an estimated 10 million legal immigrants are now eligible for citizenship if they complete the application process.

But something began to happen in the second half of 2015, as Trump, Cruz and other hard-line Republican candidates like Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina made calls for deportation essential to their stump speeches and television debate mantras.

The more they talked, even though most of them eventually dropped out, the more worried many legal Latino residents became. When Trump spoke of building a bigger and better wall along the Mexican border, many quietly began filling out naturalization papers. At the same time, almost all Latinos who already are voters decided to vote Democratic. One late-April survey showed only 11 percent likely to vote Republican.

If this trend accelerates and enough legal immigrants follow through toward citizenship, they could change politics in states like Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia and Florida, just as the citizenship flood of the late 1990s turned California from a swing state and an election battleground into a solidly Democratic state not carried by any GOP candidate since George H.W. Bush did it in 1988.

No one knows exactly how many new citizens have been registered to vote this year, but in the latter half of 2015, naturalization applications rose by 14 percent nationally over the previous year – or about 100,000.

That number is nowhere near enough to change election outcomes in any state. But the increase began early in the presidential campaign, before anyone had yet voted for Trump. As the year started, 2.7 million immigrants from Mexico were eligible to apply for citizenship, just under one-third of the potential citizenship pool. Approximately 1 million more from Central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were also eligible. It’s far too late for very many of these possible future voters to register this year, but if they eventually do and if they act like their fellow Hispanics in California, the vast majority will become Democrats.

Even though they can’t vote this year against either Trump or Cruz, they could change the future. In Texas, where elections are commonly decided by less than 1 million votes, the sudden appearance of about 1 million new Democratic voters could vastly alter things. It would take far fewer new Democrats to make swing states North Carolina and Florida firmly Democratic or to turn solidly Republican Georgia into a battleground.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, an early dropout from the GOP nomination derby, summed it up this way: “We’ve dug a hole with Hispanics. We went from 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 presidential election to 27 percent in 2012, and it could be much lower this year… It’s because of the immigration debate.”

Graham is dead-on right, and if Republicans, whose party nomination could be clinched in California’s June primary, maintain their focus on deporting as many of the undocumented as they can find, they might still win this year’s vote, but would most likely set themselves up for decades of future defeats in both presidential elections and those in many states they now count as their turf.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

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