By Mike Lillis - 02/17/16 05:09 PM EST
Leading Hispanic groups launched a national campaign Wednesday aimed at energizing Hispanic voters ahead of November's elections.
Hispanic eligible voters constitute a large and growing national bloc, and could prove vital in a number of battleground states this year. But voter turnout among Hispanics has been dismal in recent presidential cycles — trailing that of other races by significant margins — and the rate fell between the 2008 and 2012 elections.
The Hispanic groups are hoping to reverse that trend, launching a series of voter hotlines, online education tools, mobile apps, door-to-door campaigns and voter registration drives designed to ramp up Hispanic participation at the polls this year.
"When Latinos and Latinas don’t participate and don’t vote, we are robbed of a voice and a seat at the table," he added. "And the old saying is true: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu."
The other advocates joining the umbrella group include the National Council of La Raza; Voto Latino; the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA); the Hispanic Federation; and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
The coalition has its work cut out.
Although the Pew Research Center projects a record 27.3 million Hispanic voters will be eligible in 2016 — a figure just shy of the number of eligible black voters — more than 12 million of them are not registered.
The advocacy groups want to prevent a repeat of the 2012 cycle, when 23.3 million Hispanics were eligible to vote but just 11.2 million showed up at the polls — a 48-percent turnout rate that lagged far behind that of black voters (67 percent) and white voters (64 percent), according to Pew.
“Civic participation is fundamental to empowering our community," said Hector Sanchez, LCLAA's executive director. "We are determined to make in-roads that will cement future policy decisions that benefit and empower the national agenda for our families.”
The push arrives amid a presidential race where immigrant rights has played a central role and all sides are vying for the ever-growing Hispanic vote, which could prove crucial in key swing states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Florida.
The debate has adopted a sharp partisan tone that largely mirrors that on Capitol Hill.
The GOP front-runners, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWinning Congress isn’t enough — Republicans have to save it Unemployment rates falling in most swing states Trump casts doubt on accuser: 'She's a porn star' MORE and Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzJuan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? MORE (R-Texas), are pushing a tough enforcement stance that opposes President Obama's immigration executive orders and promotes the deportation of those in the country illegally. The Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonWinning Congress isn’t enough — Republicans have to save it Unemployment rates falling in most swing states Trump casts doubt on accuser: 'She's a porn star' MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders raises .4 million on Ryan's budget panel warning Sanders: My emails would be just as harsh about Clinton AT&T-Time Warner merger: Rigged by cozy regulatory relationships? MORE (I-Vt.), are vowing to adopt Obama's unilateral actions while promoting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The liberal immigrant rights groups have long-advocated the Democrats' more lenient approach. And it's no secret that they see energizing Hispanics, who chose Obama over Mitt Romney by a whopping 71 to 27 percent in 2012, as the surest route to realizing their policy goals.
“It is unfortunate that the presidential campaign is being dominated by anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-Latino rhetoric,” said Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director at the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“The only way to fight back is to vote and that’s where our organizations come in."