Latinos were almost half of new U.S. citizens in 2008

A big jump in the percentage of new citizens who are Hispanic could have far-reaching political implications.

Published April 8, 2009 4:35PM (EDT)

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials says that, in fiscal year 2008, almost half of all new American citizens were Latino. That's a big jump -- a 58 percent increase, to be exact -- from the previous year, and it has some big political implications, too.

Latinos are an increasingly powerful force in American politics, and their turn towards the Democratic Party has produced big dividends for Democrats, including President Obama. States that had been dependably purple, or even red, are increasingly trending Democratic, and others -- even Texas -- may be next. This kind of increase in the number of Latinos who are eligible to vote could be very, very bad news for the GOP.

If Republicans can break away from their party's recent impulse towards nativism, however, there is some hope for them. The strategy followed by Karl Rove and George W. Bush in the years before 2006 -- appealing to some Latinos' social conservatism -- is still open. Take, for instance, same-sex marriage, which could still be a viable wedge issue with the demographic, at least for the near future. As a colleague noted to me upon seeing the anti-gay marriage ad I posted about earlier, "If I were the GOP, I would be very active in Pentecostal and Catholic Latino groups right now." That would be a very smart strategy -- but it's not one Republicans have shown any sign of following. If they wise up, the political landscape could start looking quite different.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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