An interview with a younger Latino voter outside of Yates Elementary School on Chicago's Northwest Side this morning illustrated one of the big issues motivating the Latino community to the polls this year: immigration reform, or the lack of it. Marchello Calixta, pictured at the right, said he wanted to cast a ballot today specifically for Congressman Luis Gutierrez (4th District), who has championed comprehensive immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill, and Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias, who Calixta hopes will help get an immigration reform bill passed in the Senate.
"They know what issues are big here in Illinois. One of them is immigration," he said about the state treasurer's campaign. Calixta, 30, is of Puerto Rican descent, meaning that his family is not ensnared by the legal limbo of having an undocumented status. But he still feels solidarity with immigrants who are. "They're still our brothers," he says. "We have to look out for them."
In Illinois, an estimated 10 percent of the registered electorate two years ago were "New American voters" -- immigrants or the children of immigrants. It's a big voting bloc that's looking for leadership on immigration reform in Washington, and that may drive up turnout here and in other races around the country. Recent polling data from the pollster Latino Decisions shows that the number of Latino voters (both immigrant and native born) enthusiastic about the midterms jumped in the last weeks of October. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, meanwhile, plans to mobilize more than 133,000 immigrants to the polls today, according to a press release.
Calixta, before he left Yates, also said he was motivated to vote today for another basic reason: to back Chicago's hometown president. "The big thing is Obama and supporting him," he said. That's something Democratic candidates up and down the ticket this Election Day are hoping will make a difference for them by the time the polls close this evening.