Latinos in Arizona are helping make it a swing state — but not just because of Trump

The World
Three women protesting, with t-shirts and signs

Petra Falcon, in the center, says Arizona's controversial immigration law SB 1070 galvanized Latinos — who are registering to vote in large numbers now. Here she is at a 2013 rally for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington, DC.

Larry Downing/Reuters

Arizona is, historically, a red state. With the exception of Bill Clinton in 1996, they've voted Republican in every presidential election since 1952. 

But that might be shifting this year.

The conservative Arizona Republic newspaper endorsed Hillary Clinton for president this week. It's the first time it has endorsed a Democrat over a Republican in its entire 126-year history.

And here's another significant change: Latinos in Arizona are increasingly making sure they get to the voting booth.

Petra Falcon directs a group called Promise Arizona. She says her group has registered more than 46,000 new voters this election cycle alone.

"Our color is yellow and we're like bumblebees out their in the neighborhoods," Falcon says.

They go door-to-door — to churches, colleges, neighborhood stores, parks — trying to sign up as many people as possible by October 10, the registration deadline for this year's national election.

An August Latino Decisions poll found that more than 80 percent of those asked in Arizona were "absolutely certain" they would vote. Only 18 percent had a favorable opinion of Republican candidate Donald Trump (PDF).

But it's not just about Trump. Promise Arizona is part of One Arizona, a non-partisan coalition that was founded in 2010 when a controversial law was passed in the state.

SB 1070 was formally called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," but critics called it the "show me your papers law." The law required law enforcement to ask anyone they stopped — for jay-walking, broken taillights or any reason — for proof of their legal residence in the US if they suspected them of being undocumented.

"Immediately, we feel, it demonized the most vulnerable members of our community," Falcon says. "It was a real slap in the face to people who come here to work really, really hard."

The courts have struck down much of the law as unconstitutional and earlier this month the state attorney general issued new guidelines that narrow law enforcement's authority to detain and profile people based on race or ethnicity.

In the meantime, though, the law fueled not only Falcon's activism, but the creation of One Arizona coalition.

"SB 1070 galvanized and really energized not only immigrants, but the Latino community in general," says Falcon. "Many Latino families are mixed-status families, or they know someone who is undocumented and had been impacted by this law."

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's hard stance on immigration fueled the organizing too. Arpaio is now facing criminal charges for violating a court order to end racial profiling in his agency. He too has a tough road ahead — for the first time in years — to keep his seat in upcoming elections.

More from Arizona: 'Detained because my name was Gonzalez'

One Arizona says more than one million Latinos could be eligible to register in the state and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials says that about 17 percent of registered voters are Latino, as of February 2016 (PDF). NBC Latino reports that the One Arizona coalition has also helped increase the number of Latinos on the early voter list. There were 90,000 Latinos on the list in 2010. Now, there are more than 300,000.

Falcon, who has lived in Arizona her whole life, says early voting helps a lot. It gives people an opportunity to talk about the issues and get prepared.

Arizona, she says, has already lived through the "divisive, racist language" of this election cycle. "We've got to bring the community back together."

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