Editors note: This student story was originally published in May, 2016.

By Virginia Mayorquin

Republican candidate Donald Trump’s assertion that many Mexican immigrants were criminals, rapists and drug dealers and his proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico could motivate Latinos to vote in record numbers this November.

According to an analysis by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, 13.1 million Latinos are expected to cast ballots in this election, a 17 percent increase in turnout and an 8.7 percent increase in the Latino share of the total vote from 2012.

U.S.-born Latinos are the largest growing population of eligible voters. In combination with the increasing number of Hispanic immigrants who are becoming citizens, they could have an impact on the next election–but only if they break with history and vote.

Because Millennials–those born in 1981 or afterward–make up the largest share among eligible Hispanic voters, their vote is an important one.  Hispanic Millennials will make up 44 percent of the record 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters projected for 2016—more than any other ethnic group, according to a January Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

“We have older voters that are the more regular, consistent voters, and we have young voters that are more inconsistent in their voting patterns, and for the Latino community that is worrisome, because our population is so young,” says Henry Perez, an associate director at Inner City Struggle, which conducts voter education drives in Boyle Heights.

This past year has also seen a surge in naturalization applications among both Asian and Hispanics. According to federal figures, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the previous year and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January.

When it comes to actually casting votes, however, many Hispanic Americans chose to watch from the sidelines. In the 2012 Presidential election, 48 percent of eligible Hispanic voters cast a ballot, compared with 64.1 percent of eligible whites and 66.6 percent of eligible blacks, according to Pew.

“Our job as a community organization is to really demonstrate to voters and the community that voting actually makes a difference,” says Perez. He says many people who don’t vote believe their votes won’t make a difference.

They see what’s happening nationally or statewide, and they feel like they voted for a president that promised to do A, B and C, and nothing has changed, nothing has happened.”

Some experts have said that without a strong Latino candidate on the Democratic ticket, this election may not spur the Hispanic vote the way that President Obama’s candidacy brought out the African American electorate. Only a small percentage of Latinos live in presidential swing states, which may contribute to a lack of impact this election. But with Latinos projected to make up 24 percent of the U.S. population by 2040, the group will have the numbers to influence later elections if they choose to vote.

Arlette Lugo, an 18-year-old high school senior in Boyle Heights, is passionate about the right to vote and is excited about participating in her first election this November.  She believes a lot of young people will vote in this election, even though it’s more about voting against a particular candidate, rather than for one.

“With candidates such as Donald Trump, Latinos are coming out and speaking up ” she says. “They are protesting at rallies and creating a lot of attention on social media.”

Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy organization, launched an app, “Latino Votes,” to target teens and to make voting registration easier.

“The less educated someone is, regardless of race, the less likely they are to vote. But the more educated you are, you’re more likely to vote,” says Timothy Skinner, a government and economics teacher at Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School.

Skinner understands the importance of voting and brings community engagement organizers into his classroom every year to educate students and register those who are 18.

“ I believe in civic duty and that it’s your duty as a citizen to vote,” says Skinner, who has voted in every election since 1996. He tries to impart that sense of responsibility to his students.

Lugo hopes her own participation will help influence others to vote.

“No one in my family has gone to vote. and [me] being the youngest. it will hopefully encourage them to join me and vote, ” she says.

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Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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