While illegal immigration has overshadowed virtually every issue in Arizona for years, it’s likely that the only universally known number involving Latino issues is 1070 — as in the state’s famous law.
But a new public policy group is forming this year to produce plenty of other numbers about Latinos as that population grows and eventually dominates Arizona politics in the coming decades.
The Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center will focus on studying the role of Hispanic voters in the future of Arizona’s politics, education, economy and more. Its first report this month projects Latinos will likely dominate politics in 20 to 30 years, and the findings generated national attention.
The Latino center is an offshoot of the 30-year-old Morrison Institute at Arizona State University. Researchers there found a need for more credible information about Latinos, said director Joseph Garcia.
“Too often we have Latino centers who preach to the choir or they have an advocacy role or they deal mostly with culture,” Garcia said. “We’re looking at it from a data/demographic projection, facts rather than opinions or rhetoric.”
Garcia expects the center will formally open later this year. It’s already planning projects such as how Latinos were affected by Arizona’s residential real estate crash, and how they can get back into the housing market. Another issue of concern is Latinos have a lower educational achievement level than the rest of the population, which has huge implications for the workforce and the economy if not addressed.
Garcia is the only employee so far, but he anticipates adding staff and having outside experts assist with studies based on their expertise.
The center’s inaugural voter study was meant to help bring facts to light that were overshadowed by SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law that’s grabbed headlines since its approval in 2010.
“In many respects, I think we’re moving beyond the SB 1070 stage of the discussion, and perhaps that’s good,” Garcia said. “Now we can talk about other things like education, health care, workforce development, training.”
Garcia said there’s also a need for Arizona-specific research because the state’s Latino population isn’t the same as Latinos in other states.
The center’s voter study predicts Latinos will help Democratic voter registration catch up to Republican registration by 2025, and surpass the GOP by 2030. The study assumed Latinos will continue to register and vote at lower levels than the rest of the population, said Bill Hart, one of the report’s authors. One important finding is 99 percent of Latinos 4 and younger are U.S. citizens and will become a huge source of new voters as they mature even with no other future immigration.
Hart emphasized the study used the most conservative approach to Latino voter participation, adding that the impact could hit faster if Hispanics become more engaged than in the past.
“A key thing underlying the demographic trends we’re talking about is this is not something we made up or a theory we made up,” Hart said. “It’s a fact. It’s going to happen.”