Don’t Sleep on the Black Immigrant Vote

It's strategically placed and could hold the key in the general election.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Watching Sen. Barack Obama trounce Sen. Hillary Clinton week after week in primary sweeps this month has made it easy for his supporters to imagine him cakewalking his way to the White House. After all, the man has been leaving fans breathless as he rides a wave of momentum from one state to another.

Maybe it’s time those fans took a deep breath and considered this: The primaries Obama lost where in states with large numbers of Hispanic voters, many of them immigrants or the grown children of immigrants, who gave Clinton an edge.

While Obama did get a respectful showing of Hispanic support in places where he campaigned hard for them, he was not able to overcome the longtime affinity that Hispanics have for former President Bill Clinton and, by proxy, his wife.

Texas, which holds its primary on Tuesday, will be a big test for Obama. If he can win over Hispanic voters there, he may be able to win the state. He won’t be the only candidate trying to take those votes away from Clinton, however. Sen. John McCain, a pro-immigrant Republican and unlikely standard bearer for a political party many consider hostile to immigrants, has been reaching out to them too. But he will have a harder time surmounting that antipathy among Hispanic voters.

Both men have been polling well in Texas, and last week Obama’s numbers shot up and put him in a dead heat with Clinton. Hispanic voters are certain to play a major role in choosing the winner. Still, if every vote in this hard-fought race really counts, and they do, then Obama in particular should also be assiduously courting black immigrant voters in Texas and around the country even as he woos Hispanics – and not just during the primary season but alsogoing into the general elections next November.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the nearly three million Texas residents classified as “foreign born” in 2000, some 64,470 were born in Africa. Another 132,754 of the state’s residents listed their ancestry as “sub-Saharan African” and 40,345 said they were of “West Indian,” non-Hispanic ancestry, which generally refers to a black person of Caribbean descent. The numbers may even be higher given the generally low Census participation rates in immigrant communities.


Black immigrants are a fast growing segment of the American electorate who are becoming citizens and getting involved in politics at higher rates than ever before. Just two weeks ago, a Haitian-American couple from Virginia launched, with the banner “Wi nou kapab!” a Haitian Kreyol translation of the Obama campaign’s “Yes we can!” mantra. With one million Haitian-Americans — immigrants and those born here – living in the U.S., the site has great outreach potential.