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Latino Millennials Looking To Have A Say In This Year's Presidential Election

Gus Contreras
The voter registration table at El Centro College in downtown Dallas.

In a presidential election where a border wall and immigration are front and center – people are watching the Latino vote. This year, there are a record 27 million Hispanics eligible to vote, and almost half of them are millennials.  

It’s lunchtime at El Centro College in downtown Dallas, and people are milling about the cafeteria. At one table, volunteers encourage students to register to vote.

Jocelyn Medrano just signed up. At 18, she’s one of the 3 million Hispanic millennials in Texas. She says she feels pressure to vote since it’s the first time she can, even though she doesn’t trust either candidate.

“It’s kind of between two people that, you know, are so different and I feel like they’re just saying things to get elected,” she said.

This lack of enthusiasm might be one reason why about 2.5 million Hispanics of voting age aren’t registered to vote in Texas.

At El Centro, students say they’re especially concerned about Donald Trump.

“All his ideas don’t correlate to what I need: he’s misogynist and against Hispanics,” 19-year-old Paulina Gonzalez said.

“It makes me concerned for most of my family. I wouldn’t really want to lose them – have them go back to Mexico,” 18-year-old Joel Segura said.

This will be their first time casting a ballot for the president, and they’re part of a growing demographic. Nationally, a projected 12 million Hispanic millennials will be eligible to vote this November.

But in Texas, you can’t vote unless you’re registered. And time’s almost up.

“It's our experience that most people don't pay attention to elections until two weeks out,” Lydia Camarillo of the Southwest Voter Education Project, said. “And as you know, the Texas requirements are that you must register 30 days out. So if people aren't registered when they're paying attention two weeks before the election they lose an opportunity to vote because they weren't able to register in time.”

Camarillo says Trump is not focusing on attracting the Latino vote. And that’s a problem if he wants to win favor with the Latino electorate.

Recently the civic group, Voto Latino, says it’s helped register over28-thousand people in Texas. The surge in people registration could be tied to Donald Trump’s comments: about building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and about possibly deporting millions of undocumented immigrants.

Joel Segura just started at El Centro and is the first person in his family to go to college.

He says he wanted to vote for Bernie Sanders, but now he’s undecided. Segura says even his usually a-political family is taking notice this year.

“I hear them talking about it more than usual,” he said. “Mainly favoring Hillary Clinton and why we should vote for her. And why Trump is a bad person. So yeah, it’s definitely brought more conversation within the family.”

Voter outreach groups hope increased attention to issues in the Latino community will bring more people to the polls. In the 2012 presidential election, per capita, Texas Latinos voted nine percent less than the national average.

Camarillo with the Southwest Voter Education Project says that’s because in a red state like Texas – it’s easy to feel like your vote doesn’t matter.

Matt Barretto is co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions. He understands that feeling.  

“A typical election here in the Texas might be decided by 700,000 votes,” Barretto explained a policy forum. “That’s a landslide. That’s a lot. That makes it very hard, Texas is not competitive.”

El Centro student Paulina Gonzalez says she’s heard that at home.  She, however, is pumped to vote and says there’s only one candidate for her – Hillary Clinton. This millennial is excited to share the experience with her dad. He’s planning to cast his first ballot as well.

“Usually my parents think that your vote doesn’t count, so they never really cared to vote,” she said. “Since Trump is in this election, he’s strongly against Mexicans and trying to build a wall, so he thought it was time to vote.”

Gonzalez will just have to make sure her dad is registered first.