SOMETIME in the next century, both major political parties will be actively courting the Latino vote. Census figures tell the story. The current U.S. population is 73.6 percent white, 12 percent black and 10.2 percent Latino. By 2050, it will be 52.8 percent white, 24.5 percent Latino and 13.6 percent black. Persons of Hispanic origin are by far the fastest growing minority in America, adding 900,000 a year, one third through immigration.
During this election, however, Republican leaders with the notable exception of vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp have been more intent on playing to anti-immigrant sentiments in their oratory and through passage of legislation inimical to both legal and illegal aliens.
As for Democrats, they are having it both ways. Although President Clinton has signed immigration and welfare bills Latinos do not like, his party's contrast with the more militant attitude of the GOP is driving most Latinos into Democratic ranks. This is augmented by a government-sponsored campaign that has tripled the number of resident aliens taking citizenship. Each one gets an embossed letter from the president. Observers believe these new citizens are motivated not only by loyalty to their new country but by fear they will be hurt by new legislation if they are not naturalized.
Latino organizations, which put on their first-ever march in Washington last weekend, estimate that 6.5 million Hispanics will be registered to vote this year, compared to 5 million in 1992. Because the Latino vote is concentrated in California, Texas and Florida, states with huge electoral college clout, its tilt to the Democrats except among anti-Castro Cubans in Miami could be pivotal in close elections.
Right now, Mr. Clinton leads Republican challenger Bob Dole by double digits in California and a smaller margin in Florida. But in Texas, it is a dead heat. If Texas goes Democratic for the first time in 20 years, it will be because the party's Hispanic Senate candidate, Victor Morales, has energized the Latino vote.
Large numbers of citizens born in this country blame immigrants for taking the kind of menial jobs that, ironically, they would not be willing to perform themselves. What they fail to realize is that with an aging population and fairly stagnant population growth among whites and blacks the United States will need more and more young workers to deal with a growing labor shortage in the 21st century.
But that is then and now is now. Over time, economic reality and political numbers will surely prevail over prejudice to create the "Latino power" that is still being thwarted.
Pub Date: 10/17/96