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Young Hispanic voters don’t care that Tim Kaine speaks Spanish

Reuters/Brian Snyder
Talk is cheap—even in Spanish.
By Chase Purdy
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has tapped Virginia senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. And as the presumptive nominee is quick to point out, he’s a fluent Spanish speaker.

But the initial response from politically engaged young Hispanics in the US—a crucial constituency for the Democrats—is pretty uniform.

“¿Y qué?”

So what?

Beaten down by policy defeats under Barack Obama’s Democratic administration, which deported more immigrants than those before it, the youth movement pushing hard for immigration reform remains disillusioned and cynical. They call themselves DREAMers, activists and supporters of the failed DREAM Act, a bill intended to offer a path to permanent residency for undocumented minors brought to the US by their parents.

Kaine may have given the first address to the US Senate entirely in Spanish, but until this youthful group of activists see political action, talk is cheap.

“Tim Kaine is a conventional choice at an unconventional time,” said Adam Luna, a spokesman for United We Dream. “But immigrant youth know that we can’t count on political leaders to dismantle the systems that oppress us without relentless pressure.”

On Saturday (July 23), Clinton and Kaine appeared together at a rally in Miami at Florida International University. During his remarks, Kaine talked—in Spanish at times—about his experiences working alongside carpenters in Honduras during the 1980s. He said that in Clinton’s first 100 days in the White House, she would lay out a comprehensive immigration reform package.

Many naturalized immigrants and children of immigrants aren’t drawn to Republican nominee Donald Trump’s nativist campaign, but whether Democrats can drum up enthusiasm among this group to turn out in big numbers at the polls in November remains to be seen. Immigrants and supporters of immigration reform along the lines of the DREAM Act are crucial constituencies in swing states.

“It’s fine that he can speak Spanish but that doesn’t matter to me.”

Luna described Kaine’s immigration record in the senate as “fairly standard” as Democrats go, but noted this has done little to stop deportations under president Obama.

DREAMers said Kaine’s fluency might immediately appeal to their parents’ generation—some mentioned family members who were momentarily drawn to Republican senator Marco Rubio when he was still in the running—but that Clinton and Kaine have a lot of work ahead of them if they hope to energize younger voters.

“For myself, it’s like, okay cool, it’s fine that he can speak Spanish but that doesn’t matter to me,” said María Jaime, the 24-year-old board chair of the Hudson Valley Community Coalition in White Plains, New York. “You can speak Spanish and still have terrible policies.”

Jaime and others say seven years of false starts in the immigration-reform movement has taken its toll. One of the most crushing blows came last month, when the US Supreme Court—still one justice short of its full nine-member complement—voted 4-4 to block (paywall) president Obama’s executive orders that would have shielded up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, giving them a path to work legally in the US.

For Carolina Bortello, the 28-year-old lead coordinator of Connecticut Students for a Dream, some optimism could be injected into the DREAMer movement if Clinton and Kaine focus on scrapping and replacing the “prison-industrial complex,” which she describes as ripping segments of the immigrant community apart.

“I don’t think that just by naming him as [vice president] that it will draw more minority votes to her,” Bortello says of Kaine. “The only way that could happen is when he speaks about his policies, if he [opts] to make the president’s policies more friendly to immigrants in the US.”

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