5 Questions: Rodolfo de la Garza on the Latino Vote

October 05, 2016
Rodolfo de la Garza

Who will turn out to vote on November 8? Rodolfo de la Garza, Eaton Professor of Administrative Law and Municipal Science and Professor of International and Public Affairs, has insight into a key block of voters: Latinos. De la Garza directs Columbia’s Project on Immigration, Ethnicity, and Race and is vice-president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. He’s currently studying the states in which Latino voters may have the biggest impact in the upcoming election.

Q. Can Hispanic voter turnout make a difference in this election?

A. Of course it could, but you’re starting at the wrong end. Latinos as a minority group have less influence because they’re a smaller group. So the question becomes, are Latinos situated to have an impact? The answer is: only if the white vote splits. Latinos can help win back the Senate. Courts are ruling against voter ID efforts, redistricting and other ways to block the vote. That gives Latinos the opportunity to become much more important locally, so they begin to win seats in state legislatures and mayoralties, then you build up. As Latinos do that, they cannot be denied.

Q. Do you think Trump’s statements about immigrants and Mexicans have hurt his chances?

A. Of course. Hispanics are not going to help Trump even if he wins. They’re more likely to help Trump in Florida because you have older Cubans who are Republican. The cultural style of Latinos emphasizes personal interaction and if you can’t manage that, then you’re not wanted. But I don’t think they like Trump. Trump is maleducado.

Q. How do Latino voters feel about Hillary Clinton?

A. The older Latino establishment was brought into politics by Bill Clinton. They are indebted to him. During the 2008 Democratic primary, Hillary overwhelmed Obama in Latino districts. Obama did not win the Latino vote until he got the nomination. This time, they’re going to vote for Hillary.

Q. Are there immigration reforms that could bridge the gap between the far right that wants to deport the millions of undocumented immigrants and less draconian measures?

A. No. You have to be willing to let them stay. You have to have a new amnesty. And when you have amnesty people are going to say, “They’re gonna forgive us if we just stick it out for 10 years. And I’d rather be here working for 10 years than in Guatemala for 10 years, because they’ll kill me back home.” It’s a real problem. Nations have an imperative to manage their borders, but it’s a big gap between manage and control. We could “control” the Mexican border if we wanted to shoot everybody coming over. That would stop people coming over. As for the wall, immigrants would come over and under.

Q. How significant is the Latino vote in this election?

A. The great irony is that Latinos were very important in 2012. They helped swing Colorado and Nevada to Obama and carried New Mexico. Did they help Obama win the Electoral College? Not really. But they gave Obama the majority he needed. Without Latino voters, he wouldn’t have gotten the majority of the votes, and politically that means you’re more important. If Hillary wins in November, she’ll win because white women voted for her in larger numbers than ever. Because educated white people voted for her. Because blacks voted for her. Latinos are going to bring up the tail.

—Interviewed by Acacia O'Connor