Patrick Murphy puts DREAMers at the center of his Latino engagement strategy

Florida Senate candidate Patrick Murphy with DREAMers in Orlando. Credit: WESH

In 2010, “DREAMers,” the name given to undocumented youth brought to the United States as children, redefined the immigration debate in the United States.

At a time when the country was stuck, paralyzed by a policy fight that had reached a stalemate, DREAMers put a face to immigration in America. The reminded us what it really, truly means to be American. And under their leadership, America saw the biggest pro-immigrant policy win in nearly two decades.

This election cycle, DREAMers are at it again. After Republicans blocked key immigration reforms in 2013 and 2014, DREAMers took their fight to the ballot box. Through the primaries and caucuses, immigrant youth confronted every single candidate running for President to get their position on immigration programs like DACA and DAPA. They’ve hosted town halls, roundtables and DAPA Dinners. And they’ve emerged as true political power brokers this election cycle.

Here in Florida, we’ve seen the influence of the immigrant youth movement. Recently Representative Patrick Murphy met with DREAMers and mixed status families at Cafe Coabana, in a meeting organized by Central Florida’s Young American DREAMers organization. The group included 15-year old Jessica Guevara, who, although she is a U.S. citizen, could be deported along with her undocumented father because she is a minor.

Murphy heard the experiences of people like Enrique Martinez, who was nine years old when he first came to the U.S. from Mexico. Although he found a way to eventually legalize his status, Martinez knows that there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status who deserve a responsible and compassionate solution to the current impasse.

“We don’t want anything from you,” Martinez explained, referring to what he would tell elected officials in Washington. “We just want you to let us show you we can be productive members of society.”

“Immigration reform is not just an abstract policy idea or a partisan political issue,” Murphy said. “This is about allowing our neighbors and friends, Floridians who contribute to the diversity and strength of our state, to come out of the shadows. It’s about keeping Florida families together and letting DREAMers go to college, contribute to the economy, and even serve overseas.”

During the meeting, Murphy made sure to reiterate his support of DACA and promised that he would fight for DREAMers and the undocumented community, seizing the sense of betrayal that DREAMers and their parents feel at Sen. Rubio’s abandonment of his own comprehensive immigration proposal.

“I’m never going to turn my back on you,” Murphy told the group. “I’m never going to flip flop because a political party or someone tells me to.”

In contrast, Marco Rubio abandoned his immigration plan and turned his back on DREAMers in an attempt to attract Trump supporters during his failed presidential run. In his Senate campaign, he has stood by his support for Trump and GOP anti-immigration policies that would end DACA, impose maximum minimum sentences for immigration overstays and financially punish cities and counties who want deportation orders to be carried out by federal officials not local law enforcement.

Recent Latino Decisions Florida polling shows that 47% of Latino voters are unaware that Rubio’s immigration position closely mirrors Trump’s platform. 58% of Latino voters in Florida said they would be less likely to vote for Rubio if they knew that he supported Donald Trump. Rubio endorsed Trump in a video that aired at the Republican convention in July and has continuously urged voters to send the GOP nominee to the White House.

It is not just Latino voters who are unaware of Rubio’s support of Trump — it is the majority of the Florida electorate. A recent Monmouth County poll noted that as many as two-thirds of all Florida residents were unaware of Rubio’s support for Trump, the candidate he once labeled “a con man.”

The natural question remains — with less than 40 days until Election Day (and even less until the start of early voting on Oct. 24), can Democrats fully connect with and mobilize Latino voters and other communities of color?

There’s not much time, but there is room for Murphy to improve his standing with Latino voters by both increasing his name recognition and by exposing Rubio’s record. And, polling shows that Rubio, despite his high profile, has yet to put this one away — especially given that as of September, 51% of Latino Voters in Florida had not yet been contacted about voting this election cycle.

Murphy’s October schedule is off to a great start, but how he engages the Latino community between now and election day, including during the two debates on Oct. 17 (Orlando) and Oct. 26 (Broward), will ultimately decide the fate of his campaign.

Neither Trump’s hateful rhetoric nor Rubio’s betrayal on immigration reform can guarantee Florida Democrats a Senate victory. The negatives of Murphy’s opponent and the GOP nominee only creates the opportunity for voters to consider his pitch and whether he’s the right leader to defend their priorities in Washington.