According to the N.C. Board of Elections, there are more than 120,000 Latino voters throughout the state. This is a conservative estimate at best, because identifying as Hispanic/Latino is still optional and did not even become an option for voters until 2002.
To put this number into context, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s margin of victory over President Obama in the state in 2012 was a little more than 92,000 votes. In 2008, President Obama’s margin of victory over Sen. John McCain was a little over 14,000 votes. As part of a small, yet growing community of voters, our impact can be huge.
The upcoming elections will determine representation for every issue that affects Latinos in the state. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, approximately 49 percent of Hispanics in North Carolina are foreign-born, which means that issues related to immigration continue to affect the community, including a much larger percentage of U.S.-born Hispanics with close family members who are foreign-born. What better way to affect this issue than to ensure that the Senate and congressional representatives elected in November know that there is a significant base of Latino voters in North Carolina who value human-rights-based solutions to the flaws in our immigration system?
In North Carolina, 43 percent of Hispanics lack health insurance and 44 percent of Hispanics are living in poverty. Although several studies have documented the great economic contributions that Hispanics bring to the state, working-class community members are not seeing the benefits of their labor. What better way to affect these issues than to ensure that the state legislators elected in November know that there is a significant base of Latino voters in their districts who value equitable access to health services and protections for low-wage workers?
A report from a University of North Carolina professor found that, in North Carolina, Hispanic drivers are 96 percent more likely than white drivers to be searched after a traffic stop. What better way to affect this issue than by ensuring that the locally elected sheriffs responsible for protecting and serving our communities know that there is a significant base of Latino voters in their counties who value freedom from racial profiling?
I come from a large, civic-minded family. My parents are immigrants who received a lot of support from the church and community when they arrived in the U.S. and encouraged us to each find our own way of giving back. Voting is an important part of this legacy of service. Voting is both a right and a responsibility, one that my parents signed up for when they swore the oath of citizenship through naturalization, and one that I am lucky to have.
If my parents had not been from Cuba, a country whose citizens receive preferential treatment under U.S. immigration laws, our experience might have been very different. At El Pueblo, I work with Latino immigrants who experience the other side of this unequal immigration system every day – families who come from countries where there is no “line” for them to wait in, where the ability to come to the U.S. and make a better life for themselves is restricted to only the wealthiest of elites.
For these families and everyone who cares about creating an equitable and just North Carolina, there is simply too much at stake in the upcoming elections for any one of us to stay home.
Angeline Echeverría is the executive director of El Pueblo, Inc.