Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

Hispanics Poised To Make Arizona A Swing State


This week NPR and some members are going to political battlegrounds to ask people what they want from this presidential election. It's part of our project A Nation Engaged. Today we look at Maricopa County, Ariz. It's solidly Republican, but that could change because of the growing Latino vote. Jude Joffe-Block of KJZZ in Phoenix visited one of Maricopa's Mexican-American families.


JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: It's a sunny Sunday morning in the Gonzalez family kitchen. We're in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. Eldest son Aldo, who's 29, says the family didn't use to talk politics.

ALDO GONZALEZ: We just didn't know why we should vote, why you should be either - vote for a Republican or Democrat or what even, like, the parties stood for.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Most of the family now identify as independents. Aldo's the most political. He advocates for immigration reform and helps immigrants naturalize. He and his two siblings grew up in Mesa, but the whole family was born in Mexico. His father, Nemecio, came to the U.S. first in the late '80s. Nemecio works in landscaping now but started out as an undocumented farm worker.

NEMECIO GONZALEZ: (Through interpreter) I spent several years like that until I had a chance to apply for papers through a farm worker program. In 1999, I became a citizen.

JOFFE-BLOCK: The Gonzalez's are among the half million Latinos eligible to vote in Maricopa County, a number that grew 23 percent since the late-2000s according to census estimates. They live in a state known for hard line immigration policies, and for years political analysts have wondered if Arizona Latinos would punish Republicans in power with a backlash.

So far, not so much - while Latinos here favor Democrats, they turn out at much lower rates than the general electorate. But some believe this year could be different.

A. GONZALEZ: We've seen a record number of people who want to become citizens so they can vote in November. And that's because they want to vote against Trump and against Arpaio.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Arpaio is Republican Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for immigration enforcement policies that landed him in court for racially profiling Latinos. For president, the parents will support Hillary Clinton. Nemecio fears more deportations under a Donald Trump administration could affect his extended family.

N. GONZALEZ: (Through interpreter) We'll be waiting for bad news all the time if Trump wins.

JOFFE-BLOCK: One undocumented relative they worry about is also seated at the table - Nemecio's sister-in-law Minerva. We aren't using her last name because of her status. Minerva says she has a lot to lose if Trump wins and a lot to gain under Clinton who supports a pathway to citizenship for immigrants like her. Minerva says this campaign season is a mix of fear and hope.

MINERVA: (Through interpreter) Fear we will be separated from our kids and hope that we can get papers in the future.

JOFFE-BLOCK: These high stakes on immigration could motivate more Latinos and put Arizona in reach for Democrats for the first time in 20 years. But some here are disillusioned with both parties, including Aldo.

A. GONZALEZ: I don't think that I would be able to support Hillary because I see her as part of the problem. She is part of this system that is very corrupt.

JOFFE-BLOCK: He plans to write in Bernie Sanders or support the Green Party's Jill Stein. He's angry the Obama administration deported millions and broke a promise to get immigration reform legislation passed.

A. GONZALEZ: And we keep being used as a political football. We can't keep waiting.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Which goes to show how Arizona could swing if the Latino electorate can be persuaded. For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jude Joffe-Block

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.