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5 Issues Latinos Will Watch In 2015

Image: Control Of Senate Hangs In Balance On Eve Of Country's Midterm Election

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: The afternoon sun hits the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Getty Images

The Republicans take over when Congress returns in the new year. Many of the issues of the previous year linger but the anticipation of the next presidential election puts a new twist on the politicians will legislate. Here’s five issues Latinos should be watching in the coming year:

ECONOMY, JOBS, INCOME – Admit it. You thought we’d top this list with immigration. Why didn’t we? As big as the issue is for Hispanics, a recent report found the wealth gap between Latino and non-Latino white households is the widest in more than a decade. For many in the community, other issues are secondary to employment, wealth building and fair pay. Also, a big reason immigrants head to the U.S. is economic survival. With a drop in unemployment among Latinos to 6.6 percent and some recently good news on the job creation front, we’ll want to know how much Latinos partake in any additional efforts to create jobs or expand the economy and whether those who have jobs will see better wages or, for some, living wages. We’ll also want to know how lawmakers plan to help close the wealth gap between Latino and white Americans.

LATINO POLITICIANS IN THE WINGS – Very little happens in Washington, D.C. without thought to the next election. While the 2016 races are a little ways off, there is the daily drip, drip, drip and hints of who might be the party nominees for the White House and other jobs. While there is no big money on any potential Latino candidates for the Oval Office in 2016, there are lots of reasons to keep an eye on moves that might be made by some high-level Latinos. Will HUD Secretary Julian Castro join a Democratic presidential ticket? Will Republicans reach out to Sen. Marco Rubio, who recently told NPR a run for president by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would not stop him from doing the same, if Rubio decided to seek the GOP nomination? And how will Sen. Ted Cruz wield his tea party power? What about some of the many Latinas in office, such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez? The U.S. complexion has changed, but Latinos are still far behind in holding elected and appointed offices, and the community is eager to see more of its leaders reflect their growing numbers.

IMMIGRATION – For a large group of Latinos, everything hinges on whether and how Republicans tackle this issue. Improving economically, obtaining higher education, getting good health care or even driving a car all are connected to their status in this country. Some members of our community have gone from toddler to young adult in the couple of decades that Congress has failed to update its immigration laws. When Republicans last controlled Congress and the White House in 2005, nothing was done on the issue. In 1996, when the GOP controlled Congress and a Democrat was in the White House, the GOP passed the Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, which toughened border laws, heightened criminal penalties in immigration law and started up the Employment Verification (E-Verify) program. We’ll be keeping an eye on whether the GOP looks to go tough on enforcement as it did in 1996, what action it takes in response to Obama's executive action on immigration and whether it passes legislation that ends protections for unaccompanied migrant children from countries other than Mexico and Canada. We're watching how Republicans perform on the issue as the party tries to keep enough of the Latino vote to win a presidential election. We’ll also want to see whether the tough tactics the Obama administration employed against Central American migrants this year prevent another border crisis and how well the administration responds if the arrivals spike again.

EDUCATION and HEALTH – In polling, Latinos often name education as a top concern, but experts often find it difficult to separate health and education, since the success of so many children depends on their health. Obamacare has shown some results in cutting the numbers of uninsured Latinos, while education numbers show a drop in Latino dropout rates and improvements in college attendance – albeit mostly at community colleges. Common Core and Obamacare aren’t favorites of many Republicans. But initiatives to provide early education for more young children have bipartisan backing outside the Beltway. What kinds of changes may be in store on these two fronts, if any, and how will they impact the large Latino school population and the high rate of Latinos without health insurance?

CENSUS - It’s not yet 2020, but the U.S. Census faces some big tests next year, including testing a redesigned question about Latino heritage. Community and civil rights leaders are keeping a close eye on the shaping of the key question about Latino identity to ensure it does not affect the counting of Latinos, which in turn could effect everything from local federal funding to drawing of political voting districts.