Latinos will be listening tonight

09/26/2016 04:16 pm ET

The upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates are extremely important for Latinos across the country. It is a chance for many to solidify their support for either candidate based on how they will present the issues Latinos care about most. The Latino community is one both candidates should keep in mind as they engage in discourse beginning with tonight’s debate.

While detailed policy positions from both candidates is essential to deeming debates worthy of one’s time, for Latinos, the tone in which each issue is handled will make the biggest difference in processing the policies proposed. Conveying a culturally sensitive message about important issues will be key for candidates to gain attention from the Latino community and entrance into their hogar.

In one of my recent op-eds, I mentioned that immigration reform is an issue that personally affects many Latinos.Though immigration isn’t necessarily the number one issue Latinos care about, it does open the door to initial engagement with our community. This is because over 60% of Latino voters in the U.S. either have a family member who is undocumented or knows someone undocumented. For example, I was born in Tyler, Texas. My father, Ed Rocha, was born in Texas. My grandfather, Pete Rocha, was born in, take a wild guess... Texas. My great-grandfather Benito Rocha, however, was born in Mexico, and he is the reason I care deeply about immigrants and immigrant issues. If someone insults immigrants or talks about “building a wall”, it becomes very personal to me no matter how many generations have been born in the United States. This negative tone regarding immigration has affected the way Latinos are viewing this election.

Immigration will continue to be an issue of contention in the upcoming debates because many families want solutions to our broken immigration system. Even though Democrats promise immigration reform every election, its progress fluctuates. In 2013, the Senate passed S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which sought to modernize our current immigration system. Because the House of Representatives refused to consider S.744, it died in the 113th Congress. As a result of a “do nothing Congress,” President Obama used his executive power in 2014 to expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and later Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). This expansion was brought to a halt after a Supreme Court ruling this past June. At the same time, President Obama deported more than 2.5 million immigrants in his first four years of office-- 23% more than George Bush ever did in his eight years in office. It is important for both candidates to approach immigration reform tactfully.

Democrats should note that their biggest problem is motivating Latinos to vote. Hillary Clinton needs to inspire a whole new generation of Latinos who became of voting age under President Obama. This generation overwhelmingly voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary and his Clinton endorsement will not be enough to convince young Latinos to support her. Luckily, in terms of policy substance, former Secretary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine most align with Latinos on the economy and education, which are leading issues for Latino voters.

The debates will be an opportunity for Team Clinton to propel young Latinos to the polls in November by demonstrating that Donald Trump is an unfit candidate to serve. While Clinton has a long trusted history with Latinos over the age of 40, who are the ones that are more likely to vote, focusing on young Latinos could prove very beneficial in the polls, since the average Latino in the United States is 27 years old. In order to engage young Latinos, it is imperative that she talks about the specific issues they care most about, such as her college affordability plan.

Trump, on the other hand, has a whole different set of issues and opportunities during these debates. Assuming Trump wants to appeal to Latino issues, Trump needs to focus on increasing his mere 20% support from Latinos. He can do this by focusing on the economy, specifically employment rates. For example, he can talk about issues with trade and how it will affect the job market. However, if he continues with his desire to build a wall and to insist that Latinos like him because he hires them, it will be a lost battle for him.

Latinos overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party over Team Trump in all the battleground states. As long as Hillary Clinton remembers to be culturally sensitive about key issues, appeal to Latino millennials in upcoming debates, and draw a distinct contrast between her and Trump, the Democratic Party will have the Latino vote secured by November.

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