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‘Tequila Party’ Rallies Hispanics

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Rep. Lamar Smith offered a bill Tuesday to require businesses to check the citizenship of new hires. Tequila Party organizers plan protests against it.

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Its cheeky name aside, the Tequila Party has a serious mission.

The newly formed grass-roots group sprouted from a growing frustration among Hispanic voters that neither party is doing much to help the nation's immigrant population and that the tea parties have turned the tide against them.

Rather than swear allegiance to one party or the other, Tequila Party members said they plan to form a Hispanic voting bloc so strong that they can no longer be ignored.

"We're not telling anybody how to vote. We don't care, because we do bad anyway at the polls. Right now, we need to get over that hurdle," said DeeDee Garcia Blase, the group's founder and president.

The lifelong Republican recently dropped her party affiliation to protest
Republican-led immigration enforcement measures in her home state of Arizona.

"It's sad that GOP leaders will not work more aggressively to become a catalyst to the Republican moderates," said Blase, a veteran who was drawn to the Republican Party during her military service. "Latin Republicans who were typically lifelong Republicans are concerned about losing the party."

Earlier this month in Tucson, Ariz., she kicked off a Tequila Party tour that is expected to hit 20 states and draw similarly frustrated Hispanics of all political persuasions. The next stop is expected to be in Wichita, Kan., on July 30.

The Tequila Party has already drawn dozens of activists, including Iowa Republican Bob Quasius.

"Democrats take the Latino community for granted, and Republicans tend to assume that Latinos don't vote or that they always vote Democrat," Quasius said. "We think both parties' perceptions of Latinos need to be fairly shaken up."

Like many Hispanics, Quasius remains a Republican because of his social and religious values. But when it comes to immigration, he has more in common with Democrats such as Nevada Tequila Party leader Fernando Romero.

Both are frustrated with the stalemate in Washington, D.C., where immigration has become a partisan issue. They say that is not the case in the Hispanic community: Support for comprehensive immigration reform cuts across party lines.

"Most of us who are Hispanic have a friend, a cousin, a parent, a son or daughter who is undocumented," Romero said.

Yet voter turnout remains low among Hispanics. In 2010, Hispanics accounted for 16 percent of the national population but just 7 percent of voters, according to the Pew Research Center. Part of that gap is a growing population of Hispanic youth.

With its festive name, the Tequila Party aims to attract younger voters and those who have been less engaged in politics. Though it opposes the tea parties, which generally take a hard line against undocumented immigrants, the Tequila Party plans to use similar protest tactics to galvanize the grass roots.

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