In Focus: The Latino Vote

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As the fastest growing group of voters in the nation, Hispanic Evangelicals 
are now considered by many, the quintessential swing group to watch in 
this year’s elections. In 2004, 2 out of 3 supported President Bush in the 
national elections, affording him a commanding win. But now, they have 
taken a wait and see stance, as concerns about the hard line rhetoric on 
immigration, the economy, the war in Iraq and other pressing issues could 
become deal breakers, according to Rev. Samuel Rodriguez President 
and founder of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference – 
the nation’s largest Hispanic Christian organization, representing about 
18,000 or so Evangelical churches.

 
As a unifying voice, the NHCLC serves a diverse community of Latino 
Evangelicals 14 million strong, on issues pertaining to family, immigration, 
economic mobility, education, political empowerment and spiritual/moral 
enrichment. Historically, the white evangelical church represented the 
voice of the Christian church, with a clearly defined focus on righteousness 
issues (i.e. the defense of traditional marriage and the sanctity of life), while 
the African American church focused on social justice issues, due to the 
long history of discriminatory practices targeted at its community. But as 
the emerging church by way of sheer numbers, (by the year 2050, every 
1 in 4 Americans will be people of color) Latino evangelicals seek to bring 
a more reconciliatory and balanced Christian world view that addresses 
issues of concern for all evangelicals.

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“We stand at the equilibrium of both the righteousness and justice 
platforms”, states Rodriguez. “Our agenda is broad, and includes such 
issues as alleviating poverty, health care, education reform, climate change, 
Darfur, the eradication of AIDS and even torture. And yes, the defense of 
traditional marriage and the sanctity of life, but maybe from a different 
perspective. As Latinos, we see the preservation of traditional marriage as 
the antidote to the proliferation of gang violence. We believe, that if mom 
and dad are in the home, that young man or woman would be hard pressed 
to engage in any gang activity… and not only that, but their social, economic 
and educational advancement is directly affected by the presence of both 
parents in the home. For us the defense of traditional marriage is a matter 
of survival, community survival that is”. Rodriguez, a first generation American born to Puerto Rican parents, 
identified by Newsweek Magazine as one of the leaders to watch in 2008, 
has emerged as a commanding voice for Hispanic evangelicals, and 
believes, that Latinos will play a key role in electing the next president. 
As a group, Latinos are a “natural” republican constituency. In general 
they are conservative, or better yet, traditional in their values, and in the 
past, have strongly supported the republican party along issues pertaining 
to family. But now, the administrations failure to pass comprehensive 
immigration reform combined with the strong vocal opposition from some 
members of the republican party, has become the great divide between 
the two, thus placing any prior gains within the Latino constituency up for 
grabs in the upcoming presidential elections.

“For Latinos, immigration is a family issue”, states Rodriguez. “Most of us, 
fail to realize that those referred to as illegal immigrants are fathers and 
uncles of the documented, and very much part of their communities. We 
are very much in favor of protecting our borders and stopping any and all 
illegal activity, including illegal immigration, but as you can imagine, it 
would be very difficult to build alliances with anyone who threatens to 
deport a family member”.

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It is estimated, that 12 million undocumented immigrants and their families 
will be affected by the absence of a national solution to the problem. And 
after congress’, third failure to pass a comprehensive reform last spring, 
some local governments have opted to take matters into their own hands, 
in many cases, with such measures as banning foreign language signs 
in their towns to making it illegal to hire or rent to undocumented people, 
giving way to problems of racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

“The anti – Latino fervor and demagoguery exposed via – the immigration 
debate, is an issue of major concern for the Latinos community”, states 
Rodriguez. “Right now, we are the group of choice for xenophobia and 
discriminatory racist rhetoric in very much the way that African Americans 
have experienced from day one. We have never been down this road 
before, but are now – under the guise of border protection. The rhetoric 
and verbiage out there is polarizing, there’s truly an anti-Latino sentiment 
out there. . . that needs to be addressed”.

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note: In forthcoming issues will continue to investigate the narrative of the 
Latino Evangelical in America. We will examine their challenges, concerns 
and triumphs in hopes to better understand the role this group plays in the 
intricate fabric of our nation and its impact on American culture.

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