Calling the current congressional impasse over immigration reform a “travesty,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito urged Latinos to get out to the polls in 2016 during a speech in her native Puerto Rico.
“The truth is our influence has been felt and seen, but it has not truly been decisive,” Ms. Mark-Viverito told the Latino Victory Project, a national group that advocates for Latino candidates and voices. “In 2016, we’re going to change that.”
Issues important to Latino voters—immigration reform chief among them—have been in the fore of national elections in recent years, as Latino voters make up more and more of the U.S. population and, in turn, the electorate. Republicans in particular have worked to be more appealing to Latino voters, who have often swayed national elections into the favor of Democrats.
But Ms. Mark-Viverito urged those at the Latino Victory Project event not to take for granted headway made on issues she identified as important to their community, including the economy and healthcare.
“In each of these issues, we’ve seen what will happen if the wrong candidates get elected—and it isn’t pretty. On immigration, what’s happened in Congress is a travesty,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said, according to her prepared remarks. “Political fear mongering has created such a toxic political environment that some called unaccompanied minors—children—’diseased.’ Or call humans ‘illegal.’ No human is illegal. It’s a derogatory term that must be swept away.”
She argued that GOP presidential candidates have also pushed a “pro-deportation, anti-family agenda” that she called ‘inhumane.”
Ms. Mark-Viverito pointed out that while Latinos are 17 percent of the population, they made up just 10 percent of the electorate in 2012—with a voter turnout just about the same as in 2008.
“This means for all the stories about a giant being awoken, we still have not fully roused from our slumber,” she said.
In addition to immigration, Ms. Mark-Viverito highlighted income inequality—saying net worth in Latino households dropped 14 percent from 2010 to 2013—and healthcare as key priorities for Latino constituents. saying a rollback of the Affordable Care Act would be “disastrous.”
“These are the stakes for Latinos as we look to 2016. For too long, our issues have been ignored, forgotten or disregarded. But no more. No puede ganar la Casa Blanca sin nosotros,” she said in Spanish, before translating, “You can’t win the White House without us. No candidates, no matter their background, should take us for granted next year.”
In addition to loudly calling for immigration reform in Washington, the speaker has backed local measures like the municipal identification card program, IDNYC, and the ending of the city’s cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.