In the first detailed analysis of potential immigrant voters and their children in California legislative districts, a study to be released today shows they could constitute nearly one-third of state voters by 2012.
The analysis, commissioned by a Bay Area immigrant support group, is seen as a political road map to maximize the state's pro-immigrant vote. It also undergirds efforts to intensify political and civic action to help immigrants better integrate into society and win comprehensive legislative reforms, long stalled in Congress.
"We hope policymakers will look at this data to see who is in their district and how to best serve their interests," said Daranee Petsod, executive director of Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees, a Sebastopol, Calif.-based organization.
"With these numbers, immigrants can invigorate our democracy."
Los Angeles County dwarfed all others with about 2.7 million potential pro-immigrant voters -- naturalized U.S. citizens, legal immigrants eligible for citizenship and their children ages 12 to 17 -- followed by Orange, Santa Clara and San Diego counties. Statewide, the total was nearly 7.7 million.
In the Los Angeles area, the San Gabriel Valley had the highest number of such potential voters.
The immigrant voters and their teenage children, who are overwhelmingly Latino and Asian American, made up about one-third of the electorate in state Assembly and Senate districts held by Democrats and about one-fifth of Republican districts.
The analysis was conducted by Rob Paral, a Chicago demographer who charted a similar political road map in Illinois. It was based on 2006 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Homeland Security.
Joshua Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said Paral's work there has enabled immigrant advocates to launch targeted political action that has helped swing seven state legislative districts and one congressional district from Republican to Democratic since 2002.
Statewide, the Republican district with the largest number of potential pro-immigrant voters is held by state Sen. Bob Margett of Glendora. Nearly one-third of his 29th District, which includes much of the San Gabriel Valley, is made up of such potential voters.
But Margett co-sponsored efforts to create a state border police force and voted against bills to give driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and to recognize the contributions of immigrants by declaring May 1 as "The Great American Boycott 2006 Day."
In an interview, Margett said the number of potential immigrant voters and their children in his district were higher than he had imagined. But he said that would not change his positions. He described himself as a "law-and-order guy" who would support English classes, naturalization assistance and other services for legal immigrants but continue to oppose most non-emergency services for illegal immigrants.
"I don't want to bend to the winds of political change if it's a right-and-wrong issue, if it's a legal issue," Margett said.
Advocates said the report underscores the need for programs to help integrate immigrants into society, such as English-language instruction and help attaining citizenship. But state funds to support naturalization programs have been cut by half in the last decade to $3 million and are facing proposed cuts of an additional 30%, said Reshma Shamasunder, director of the California Immigrant Policy Center in Los Angeles.
Aside from supporting more immigrant-friendly policies, the state's rising immigrant voting force also could boost efforts to increase funding for schools, roads and other public services because surveys show that they are more willing to accept tax hikes to pay for them, said Louis Di- Sipio, a UC Irvine political science professor.
DiSipio said immigrant voters already are influencing local elections, such as the Los Angeles mayoral race, but it would take time for them to become a decisive vote statewide because they are still underrepresented in the electorate. In 2004, for instance, non-Latino adult whites were 47% of the state population but 65% of voters.
One new immigrant voter is Rebeca Canales, a 26-year-old El Salvador native and UC Davis law student. The independent voter said immigration is a key issue for her; one reason she backs Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton is that he supports driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and she does not.
The new political road map is one of the tools that immigrant advocates plan to use in intensifying campaigns to win legal status for illegal immigrants, more family and work visas, and other measures to comprehensively reform the immigration system.
In addition to more robust civic and political action, they said they plan to better highlight immigrant contributions to the nation and more aggressively "name and shame" anti-immigrant ideologues.