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Hispanic voting bloc gaining political clout

The political spotlight has focused on the Latino community over the past two election cycles, as they comprised a record 10 percent of the voting population in 2012. The increased political prowess of this population comes at a time when immigration has emerged as the dominant issue for Latinos who have seen a record number of state immigration laws passed (many highly controversial and punitive toward immigrants), and a record number of mostly Latino immigrants deported.

A recent groundbreaking survey sponsored and designed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico and implemented by Latino Decisions polled 1,505 adults.

The Latino National Health and Immigration Survey was fielded from Jan. 29 to March 12 and provides some of the most comprehensive data on Latinos’ attitudes toward immigration policy and interactions with undocumented and deported immigrants.

The new survey reveals that Latinos, regardless of their personal immigration status, have deep and personal connections to the segment of the Latino community most directly impacted by immigration policy.

For example, 61 percent of Latinos know someone personally who is undocumented. Even more alarming, the results show that 36 percent of Latinos know someone who has been detained and/or deported. Over a third of the sample reported that the person deported was a family member.

These questions from the survey speak to the consequences the spike in deportation numbers has had on the Latino community overall, not only those who are directly impacted by these policies. This is reinforced by U.S.-born Latinos being more likely to know a deportee, compared to foreign-born Latinos in the sample.

Public health scholars have been studying the direct impact of this immigration climate on the mental health of the undocumented. They are finding that this vulnerable population suffers from anxiety and depression as a result of feeling constantly hunted and knowing that they might be removed from their families at any time.

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The survey revealed evidence of indirect health consequences. Forty-six percent of the sampling indicated being stressed that a friend or family member might be detained or deported due to their immigration status.

Arguably, the most eye-catching finding from the new survey is that 78 percent of Latino adults believe there is an anti-immigrant or anti-Hispanic environment in the United States today. This is not a finding being driven by immigrants, as U.S.-born Latinos are more likely to believe that they are living in an environment that is hostile toward not only immigrants, but Hispanics overall.

As Congress has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, state action on immigration policy is on the rise. This snapshot of Latinos’ perceptions of their current policy environment provides a glimpse of how immigration is playing out at the local level and the negative externalities of federal policy inaction.

As the 2016 presidential campaign ramps up and parties continue their goal of courting the Latino vote, it will be important for candidates to recognize that the overwhelming majority of this important voting bloc believes that they are living in an environment that is hostile toward them.

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