Blocking the Latino Ballot?
To an immigrant, Arnold Schwarzenegger told delegates at the Republican convention last month, there is no country "more welcoming than the United States of America." And most of the time, that's true.
But it wasn't true last week in Miami Beach, where the Department of Homeland Security attempted to ban a nonpartisan voter registration operation from setting up tables on the sidewalk outside a massive naturalization ceremony at that city's convention center. The DHS complained that Mi Familia Vota would be blocking the doors at the swearing-in. But last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled that the right to register voters was protected by the First Amendment, though he did stipulate how much space the group's tables could take up.
If that arrangement seems to you the kind of compromise that Mi Familia Vota and the DHS could have arrived at themselves without making a literal federal case out of it, you underestimate the Bush administration's aversion to voting by new immigrants -- particularly new Hispanic immigrants. (The DHS didn't respond to Mi Familia Vota's request for a meeting.) In states such as Florida and Nevada -- battleground states with Republican election officials and burgeoning Hispanic populations -- the activities of groups such as Mi Familia Vota have been challenged by GOP officeholders, though it's a new wrinkle to have the DHS join the fray.
It's not hard to understand the Republicans' concern. Working in Hispanic neighborhoods across the state, Mi Familia Vota has already registered 58,000 new Florida voters, says Jorge Mursuli, its executive director. Though the operation is strictly nonpartisan, both its sponsors (which include groups such as the liberal People for the American Way) and the Republicans know that new Hispanic voters no longer hail preponderantly from Cuba, and they are likely to give most of their votes to the Democrats.
And down Florida way and in the Southwest, the administration, for all of Schwarzenegger's welcoming words, is trying to keep the Hispanization of the electorate from happening quite so fast. There, the Department of Homeland Security, charged with securing the republic from its enemies, is busy securing the Republicans from the newest Americans.