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Will Immigration Issue Mobilize Texas Latino Voters?

<p>How both parties can gain - or squander - the votes of the state's growing Hispanic population.</p>
Image: People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the US Capitol
People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on April 10, 2013. MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA file

Texas Latinos hold plenty of political power if they turn up at the polls. Almost 3 million of state's voters - about one out of five, are Latino. And the numbers could be much higher - more than 2 million eligible Hispanics in the Lone Star State are not registered to vote.

Both parties are missing opportunities, and in the case of Texas Republicans, recent anti-immigrant remarks may in fact backfire and potentially mobilize voters in the other direction, argues Latino Decisions political scientist Sylvia Manzano.

"The variable that is different this time around is that we are seeing the kind of tactics that mobilize Hispanic voters," said Manzano in a conference call with reporters on a new report commissioned by America's Voice, a pro-immigration reform organization. In fact, she said, recent remarks can be a "freebie" used by Democrats against the GOP in the upcoming state races for governor.

Chris Mapp, a Republican who hopes to be in the U.S. Senate, said in a meeting with a Dallas newspaper that ranchers on the border should be allowed to protect themselves by shooting "wetbacks" - a derogatory slur referring to undocumented immigrants - if they cross the border.

And while Texas under former Gov. Rick Perry supported in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants even before California did, all of the GOP primary candidates for lieutenant governor said they are against it - even if they had voted for it.

But candidates seeking the Latino vote, including Democrats, "cannot sit back and wait for Latinos to come to you," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of Civic Engagement & Immigration at the National Council of La Raza.

In six years, said Sylvia Manzano, Latinos will be the plurality in the state and by 2040 they will be the majority. Seventy percent of the state's Latinos are U.S. born, and 77 percent of Lone Star State Hispanics are American citizens.