Could immigrants be America’s new swing voter group?

Yajaira Gonzalez became a U.S. citizen and a registered Democrat on the same day.

She arrived from Mexico 20 years ago, and was granted temporary legal status in 2012 after President Obama established DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The policy allows some immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children to avoid deportation.

After Gonzalez married and gained citizenship, joining the Democratic Party seemed a natural step. She appreciated the party’s relatively supportive stance toward immigration and immigrants, a contrast with the antagonism of Republicans under President Trump.

President Obama signing documents at a desk on Air Force One

President Obama signs memorandums on his immigration plans aboard Air Force One in November 2014 before speaking on them in Las Vegas.

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

But Gonzalez, a scholarship coordinator at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, has been disappointed with President Biden.

Drawing on an unprecedented poll, this series tells the stories of immigrant life in America today, putting their voices in the foreground.

“He made many promises, and many of them he did not keep,” she said. “I would like to see immigration reform for undocumented immigrants and a path to citizenship for ‘Dreamers,’” — as young immigrants under the DACA program are known. “I would also like to see more Latino people in the next president’s Cabinet.”

Gonzalez said she could see herself backing some other candidate for president in 2024 — a Republican, even — depending on his or her views on immigration. First, though, she would “have to see what their platforms are.”

Gonzalez, 28, was among those who took part in a nationwide survey conducted by The Times in partnership with KFF, a nonprofit formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Her views — an affinity for the Democratic Party but a willingness to consider alternatives — reflect a widespread ambivalence among a voting group that is considered an essential part of the Democratic base.

The survey was conducted earlier this year among more than 3,300 immigrants, who were interviewed in one of 10 languages. The first-of-its-kind research was intended to develop a clearer picture of the immigrant population in the U.S., where roughly 1 in 6 adults were born abroad.

In recent years, much attention has focused on two sets of voters considered key to winning the presidency. The first is blue-collar workers in the industrial Midwest. The second is college-educated residents of the Sunbelt’s burgeoning suburbs. Both remain crucial to the prospects of the two major parties.

But The Times/KFF poll suggests there’s another potential swing group: the nation’s immigrants.

Among its gleanings, the poll found that the American dream is alive and well, at least among those who came from abroad, despite the sour mood that suffuses much of the country.

Overwhelming majorities of those interviewed said that their financial situation was better because of their move to the U.S. and that educational opportunities for themselves or their children had also improved.

Turning to politics, the survey confounded some of the conventional wisdom surrounding the immigrant community and its presumed partisanship. While leaning Democratic, the ranks include a large number of voters not strongly wed to either major party.

Asked which party better represents their political views, about a third said the Democrats, while 16% named the GOP. A quarter said neither party, and the rest were not sure.

Ali Mostashari is one of those with little use for either of the major parties.

“The way I look at things is not very ideological,” said the 47-year-old biotechnology executive, who emigrated from Iran a quarter-century ago and lives in upstate New York.

“I’m less interested in partisanship. I’m more interested in finding common ground and negotiating ways to find not the ideal solution where everyone optimizes their own, but one where we can actually create less conflict,” Mostashari said.

Though he considers himself “more on the liberal end of things,” the self-described political independent values practicality and pragmatism and doesn’t see much of either coming from Democrats or Republicans.

He’s not alone in his discontent.

“I don’t think there’s a party out there that really represents most of middle America today,” said Shawn Chen, 42, who came with his family from Taiwan when he was 9 years old. He lives in Charlotte, N.C., and works for a supply-chain firm.

Chen left the GOP about 16 years ago, put off by President George W. Bush and some of his policies. But he didn’t join the Democrats; Chen sees both parties caught in the grip of special interests and too profligate.

“From an economic standpoint, all we do is spend,” Chen said. “Our national debt is growing at a significant rate, and [it] doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight from either party.”

Strikingly, given the hard-edged rhetoric of Trump and fellow Republicans over the last several years, the poll did not turn up a huge Democratic advantage on the volatile issue of immigration.

Just over a third of respondents said immigrants in the U.S. have been better off under Biden, while 16% said they were better off when Trump was in office. About half said it made no difference who sat in the White House.

President Trump pictured from a distance below a large blue "Latinos for Trump 2020" sign, giving a thumbs-up toward a crowd

President Trump was able to court many Latino voters despite his stance on immigration. Here, he gives his approval to a cheering crowd after a Latinos for Trump event in Phoenix in September 2020.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Immigrants were also asked which party they perceived as representing their interests. Under half — 46% — said Democrats did so very or at least somewhat well, compared with 20% who said the same about the GOP. At least 3 in 10 said they were not sure how well either party represents immigrant interests.

In focus groups conducted as a part of the nationwide survey, some respondents said they felt the country’s immigrants were being “used as pawns” by politicians seeking office or were being courted “just for their vote.” Many said voting made no difference.

Julian Mensah, who spoke in a follow-up interview, said politicians had done little to address what he cares most about: social justice.

“I just feel there’s a lot of lip service,” said Mensah, 38.

An immigrant from Ghana, Mensah arrived in the U.S. with his family at age 2. He raises money to help run one of Dallas’ largest homeless shelters, and though he’s a registered Democrat, he considers himself more of a political independent.

“At the end of the day, nonprofits kind of jump in to fill the void that government entities aren’t really addressing,” said Mensah. He feels most political power these days rests with “old white males.”

He added: “I just think they aren’t in touch with my generation.”

That’s a widely shared sentiment regarding the two presidential front-runners.

“I feel like both candidates, Biden in the Democratic Party and Trump on the Republican side, don’t represent the views of most Americans,” Chen said. “You have two angry old people that really talk out of a lot of hatred instead of focusing on key issues we have in this country.”

If Trump, 77, and Biden, 81, end up as the two major-party nominees, it could take a good deal of persuading to convince a significant chunk of the immigrant population to support either with very much enthusiasm.

And given the nation’s deeply discontented electorate, is there anything more American these days than that?

Times staff writer Selene Rivera contributed to this column.

Original News Source Link – LA Times

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