By Jonathan Wilson
Leaders and advocates for northern Virginia's Latino community are sending a message to political candidates before the 2010 election season heats up.
From a conference of Latino community leaders in Arlington, the message to elected officials and candidates is a simple one: ignore us at your own peril.
Juan Marcos Vilar is the Board Chairman of Virginia New Majority, a non-partisan group focusing on issues concerning immigrants and the working class. He says Virginia's handling of its immigrant community will have a national impact.
"As we've seen in the last few years, Virginia has become the new battleground state, and it's a mistake, an outright mistake for people to take the Latino vote for granted," says Vilar.
The U.S. Census Bureau says 74,000 Latinos cast votes in Virginia in 2008: that's nearly a 6 percent jump from four years earlier.
But much of the debate centers on immigrants who can't vote because they're here illegally. Arlington County Board Member Walter Tejada says elected officials need to remember that could change with immigration reform.
"Who might be an undocumented immigrant today, might be a U.S. citizen tomorrow, and they're going to remember who treated them with dignity and respect, and wanted to include them, and who wanted to exclude them from the community," says Tejada.
There's one more reason this is a big year for the Latino community in Virginia and elsewhere: the 2010 U.S. Census. The number of Latinos taking part in the census will effect how congressional districts are redrawn, helping to decide elections for years to come.