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The Miami Herald
Growing Hispanic Power Will Influence Foreign Policy
By Andres Oppenheimer
March 8, 2001
The newly released 2000 U.S. Census figures showing an amazing 58 percent growth in the U.S. Hispanic population in the last decade will probably have a dramatic effect not only on America's domestic politics, but also on its foreign policy.
Contrary to previous projections that the Hispanic population would reach the African-American population by the middle of this decade, it has already happened: The new census shows there are 35 million Hispanics, nearly 3 million more than the Census Bureau had projected, and virtually the same as the number of African Americans.
``Nobody expected this to happen this soon,'' says Sergio Bendixen, a pollster specializing on Hispanic population trends.
``These figures will revolutionize Washington, D.C.''
Domestically, the new figures will substantially increase Hispanics' political clout.
Congressional districts will be redrawn to reflect the new census, and pollsters predict the 2002 Congressional elections will result in at least half a dozen new Hispanic legislators. Today, only 18 of the 435 voting members of the House of Representatives are of Hispanic origin.
More important, presidential candidates will increasingly need the Latino vote because the U.S. Hispanic population is concentrated in five key states -- California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois -- that have the largest number of electoral votes.
The Hispanic vote will be essential to win those states in future presidential elections, pollsters say. The Republican Party's loss of California in the Nov. 7 elections, largely because of Hispanic voters' memories of former Gov. Pete Wilson's anti-immigration policies, was only a preview of what may happen nationwide, they say.
On the diplomatic front, the new figures will put pressure on the U.S. foreign policy establishment to change its historic obsession with Russia and China.
President Bush's pledge to ``look South'' as a ``fundamental commitment'' of his presidency may turn out to be more than campaign rhetoric.
Why? Because a new breed of Hispanic voters is demanding it. If you look at the composition of the U.S. Hispanic electorate, it is increasingly Latin America-born, more likely to vote, and more interested in Latin American affairs.
According to Bendixen's figures, in 1990 nearly 80 percent of U.S. Hispanic voters were born in the United States. By the 2000 elections, that percentage fell to 50 percent. By 2010, only about 30 percent of Hispanic voters will be born in the United States.
The vast majority will be immigrants born in Latin America.
Most Hispanics voters will have close ties with their native countries. That should have an extraordinary effect on U.S. foreign policy: these voters will care more than their U.S.-born predecessors about issues such as immigration, free trade and foreign aid.
They will want free trade agreements to do business with their relatives back home, or seek a growing U.S. support for their emerging democracies.
And the smartest Latin American governments will seek to turn their nationals living in the United States into formidable lobbying forces in Washington.
Unless the Census Bureau didn't get its math right, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the makeup of this country. I find it hard to believe that it won't affect its foreign policy before too long.