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Organizing Latino voters in North Carolina

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Ricardo Velasquez, recently re-elected to a new term as president of the Hispanic Democrats of North Carolina at their June statewide convention, is dedicated to bringing more Hispanic voters into the Democratic fold this election season. While local non-profit advocacy groups like Student Action with Farmworkers and El Pueblo focus on legislative issues affecting primarily undocumented immigrants, such as easing tough new restrictions on driver's licenses and lowering college tuition for children who are North Carolina residents, Velasquez emphasizes his core message: "Hispanic issues are Democratic issues."

Ivan Parra, director of the Latino Community Development Center in Durham, agrees, saying access to health care, education, job training and even civil rights in the aftermath of 9/11 affect Hispanics as part of the larger community.

"It's very similar to other communities--decent housing, employment opportunities, health insurance, these are all issues that Latinos are following very carefully. Seven percent of registered voters are from the Latino community. That number in a tight race is going to be significant."

Immigration reform will continue to mobilize the Latino electorate this season, Parra predicts. "The reality is that most of the families have what is called mixed immigration status, so, for example, the mother might be undocumented, but the father and two daughters are U.S. citizens, so it affects one member of the family and it affects everybody."

Yet Bush's proposal of a new short-term visa program for immigrant workers is unlikely to garner him the Latino vote, Parra says.

"Most Latinos agree with President Bush that the immigration system doesn't work, but all the rest is a very terrible policy that only creates a second class group of people in this community; it just creates a servitude type of program. It only creates an avenue for companies and corporations to have more control over immigrant workers and their wages. Most Latinos understand that very well. It's only important because it says the system is not working, and that opens the door for other proposals that are more humane than what [Bush] is proposing."

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