"In many ways, environmental issues are connected to many of the other causes close to my heart: civic participation, workers' rights, immigration and health care."
It is time to recognize that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the unique negative impacts of the environment on Latino communities across the U.S. and the opinions of this diverse and robust constituency on the matter. A new national poll of Latino voters conducted by Latino Decisions in partnership with Earthjustice and GreenLatinos certainly opened my eyes.
This poll shows that Latinos understand the importance of a clean, healthy environment and the policies that help rein in air and water pollution in our communities. To Latinos, climate change is not a hypothetical term; it is a reality. We understand the vital necessity of curbing emissions that are causing the world to warm because we see and live with the impacts of climate change, locally and globally.
Latino voters want an aggressive agenda to protect the environment and deal with climate change. In many ways, environmental issues are connected to many of the other causes close to my heart: civic participation, workers' rights, immigration and health care.
This should not be a surprise, but it was striking to see the number of environmental issues that were such high priorities for Latino voters: strengthening the Clean Water Act, reducing smog and air pollution, protecting the nation's wildlife, reducing pesticide use in farming, developing clean energy standards and preventing global warming.
But it makes sense. Latinos live it every day. We live next to the polluted rivers; next to the factories that are poisoning our children. We have sadly seen the consequences, up close and personal, of environmental neglect.
Of the top 10 most polluted cities in the country, six of them have populations that are 40 percent or more Latino. We also know that 66 percent of Latinos live in areas where the air is not up to the federal government's safe air quality standards. That's unacceptable.
More than three-quarters of Latino voters say they have already directly experienced the effects of climate change. And a higher percentage of Latino voters than American voters in general understand that climate change is being caused by human activity.
Strong connections to ancestral homelands, especially among first generation immigrants, makes Latino voters more sensitive to the global impact of climate change, and many are worried about that impact on their families living in Latin America.
Another poll finding that will surprise some is that Latino voters believe that protecting the environment doesn't have to come at the expense of a strong economy. Some of the most vulnerable workers in the nation are Latinos. Migrant workers, especially, work in some of the most dangerous industries and face harmful working conditions and poverty wages.
Latinos are more vulnerable, and as a result, more sensitive, to swings in the economy. But this national poll found that nearly 60 percent of Latino voters believe that enacting stronger environmental laws will actually improve economic growth and create new opportunity.
As expected, comprehensive immigration reform remains a vital issue for the Latino community, and this poll affirmed that. The negative impact on Latinos of current enforcement policies - from racial profiling to the break-up of families to the marginalization of undocumented residents - simply cannot be overstated.
Given the drastic impact that immigration policies and enforcement have had on Latinos in the United States (immigrant and non-immigrant alike), several organizations have an ongoing, urgent and necessary focus on comprehensive immigration reform.
But as we head into a presidential election year and continue efforts to make Latino voices and priorities heard, policymakers should take note of the range of issues Latino voters care about. Our community recognizes that protecting the environment is critical and we want action, on all fronts.