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Campaign 2012 Series Pt. 2 – Examining The Latino vote

As the 2012 campaign enters its final stretch, candidates are trying to win the hearts and minds of several demographic groups that could swing the elusive “undecided” vote in their favor. And those potentially game-changing voting blocs are working to make sure the candidates speak to their agendas.

In a series of articles counting down to Election Day, we’ll examine several groups of constituents that candidates are trying to woo and look at how they relate to Black Americans.

To read the first article in this series about the LGBT community, click here.

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By// Julius Rea

Lawrence Benito watched in awe as approximately 14,000 young Latinos packed Chicago’s Navy Pier on Aug. 15 for a chance at a better life. By 6 a.m., he says, the downtown venue was packed — some people even camped out overnight.

They were gathered to learn about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Under the initiative, young illegal immigrants — who were brought to the country as children — are given work authorization cards and are saved from deportation.

“The emotion hit me immediately, seeing these kids, because it symbolized the sacrifices of their parents. It reminded me of the sacrifices of my parents — coming to this country in search of a better life,” says Benito, the CEO of the Illinois Center for Immigrant and Refugee Relations. “They’re American in every sense except on paper.”

Two people look on as thousands apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Aug. 15, 2012 at Chicago's Navy Pier. /AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong

Two people look on as thousands apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Aug. 15, 2012 at Chicago’s Navy Pier. /AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong

Jose Quintero — the first DACA approved student in Illinois — attended one such workshop in Chicago on Oct. 6.

“Having that document — that was an emotional experience — for him and for all of us,” Benito says. “When he showed this card that [made him] eligible to work, [it was easy to see] what that would mean for him and his family to be able to contribute and to give back to the only country that he’s really known.”

As political and social movements like DACA take root in the United States, the Latino-American community — often called the “Sleeping Giant” — is becoming a strong bloc and an influential force in the 2012 presidential election.

According to Pew Research Center, the U.S. is home to more than 50.7 million Hispanics, one of the largest and fastest growing demographics in America.

Out of 19.5 million eligible Latinos, 9.7 million voted in 2008; there are around 23.4 million eligible Latino voters this year, according to Benito.

“They know the importance of organizing; they know the importance of being engaged in the democratic process. And they know that they need to let their voices be heard,” he says.

He says — in addition to its size — the Latino population is quite young; the median age of Latinos in Illinois is 26, while the median age for Whites is 41.

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