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Latino Population in California Changes Attitudes Toward Immigration Reform

Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor

By the end of 2013, Latinos will make up 40% of California's population. By the end of 2050, that number will rise to 48%. The growing Latino and immigrant communities in California are changing the way Californians view immigration reform, New York Times' Jennifer Medina writes. In a state where, a generation ago, voters passed what is considered one of the most anti-immigrant ballot initiatives, recent polls show a dramatic shift in perception of aspiring Americans. Californians now say that "immigrants are a benefit to the state, according to public opinion polls from the Public Policy Institute of California."

Medina writes that Latinos holding public office also are helping to shape this trend:

There are dozens of city councils with a majority of Latino members, a Mexican-American is the mayor of Los Angeles and another is the leader of the State Assembly. Nearly all of the 15 California Republicans in Congress represent districts where at least a quarter of the residents are Latino.

“The political calculus has changed dramatically,” said Manuel Pastor, a demographer and professor of American studies at the University of Southern California. “Immigrants are an accepted part of public life here. And California is America fast-forward. What happened to our demographics between 1980 and 2000 is almost exactly what will happen to the rest of the country over the next 30 years.”

Even Republicans in the state are changing their tunes when faced with a growing Latino and Asian electorate. 

Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, said:

To constantly refer to undocumented immigrants as illegals is very hostile and self-righteous....Let’s point out that while crossing the border without documents is illegal, a federal misdemeanor, being in this country as an immigrant isn’t a criminal act.

Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was quoted in Medina's article as saying that anti-immigrant legislation and language encouraged the community to react:

Ms. Durazo recalled the huge May Day protests in 2006, when thousands of immigrants lined the streets of Los Angeles. At the time, she said, organizers made a strategic decision to discourage the waving of Mexican flags and instead handed out American flags on street corners.

“We wanted to project what we feel—we’re working people who love this country and are staying here,” she said. “For a long time, we were living in no more than four or five states, but now, we are in the smallest towns of Georgia and Alabama. And once we’re there, it gets harder to ignore or hope that immigrants will just go away.”

Read California Eases Tone as Latinos Make Gains on the New York Times website. 

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