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Who Is the Puerto Rican Migrant?

Vargas - PR Summit 2016
Prof. Carlos Vargas-Ramos of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican migrant. /photo by Maria Padilla

More than 440,000 Puerto Ricans have left Puerto Rico since an economic recession hit the island in 2006 and which hasn’t relented.

As is well documented, Florida has become the No. 1 destination for migrants, boosting the Sunshine State’s Puerto Rican population to over 1 million – and growing.

But who is taking up residence in Florida and how does that migrant compare with the Puerto Rican who stays behind?

That was the subject of a presentation at the seventh annual Puerto Rican Summit in Orlando, where scores of Puerto Ricans gathered to hear academic and other experts discuss migration trends and the island’s fiscal crisis.

Profile of the Puerto Rican Migrant

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, professor at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies affiliated with Hunter College in New York (centropr.hunter.cuny.edu), sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican newcomer by the numbers:


Puerto Ricans who left the island since 2006 are concentrated in just eight Central Florida counties.

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Gender split among migrants, a major difference compared with, say, Mexican immigration, which is mostly male. The Puerto Rican migrant wants to keep the family together, Vargas said.


Participate in the Florida labor force, versus just 40 percent on the island, a significant difference.


Migrants with Bachelor’s degrees versus 28 percent in Puerto Rico.

The island is hollowing out, Vargas said. “It is the middle section of Puerto Rican economy that is leaving,” he noted.

That leaves Puerto Rico with higher- and lower-income population groups but not enough taxpaying middle income-earning households. And it’s also creating a downward spiral in many towns, where deaths now outnumber births or migration.

Reshaping Central Florida

Conversely, the nearly 150,000 Puerto Ricans who have resettled in Florida since 2006 are reshaping the local economy and politics. (The figure doesn’t include record Puerto Rico migration in 2015, according to preliminary reports.)

For instance, Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in March – a much lower 4.2 percent in Orange County – approaching what economists call “full employment.” That means people who want to work have jobs, leaving positions unfilled because there aren’t enough people to apply. Enter the Puerto Rican migrant.

In the political sphere, Hispanic voter registration means that for the first time more Hispanics are registered to vote in Osceola County than nonHispanic whites (43 percent vs. 41 percent, as of February), which may impact elections if Hispanics exercise their vote.

But according to Vargas, Puerto Ricans generally have lower election participation rates, “leaving votes on the table.”

The Puerto Rican Summit, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton at SeaWorld, is organized by Dynamic CDC, a Miami-based economic development group that seeks to “create a vision for a greater Puerto Rican community in the U.S.”

Summit founder Luis De Rosa and others drafted a letter directed to White House and congressional leaders urging action to stem the financial and demographic bleeding in Puerto Rico, which is carrying over $72 billion in debt it cannot repay.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Hispanics Now Largest Share of Osceola Voters

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The dramatic increase in the Hispanic population in Central Florida is significantly impacting  voter registration, with Latinos now accounting for the largest group of voters in Osceola County.

That would mean Osceola is behind only Miami-Dade in percentage of Hispanic voters in Florida, which is a major feat.

Hispanics total about 75,000 or 43 percent of Osceola voters, while non Hispanic whites comprise 72,000 or 41 percent as of February, according to the state Division of Elections. As recently as 2012, non Hispanic white voters outnumbered Hispanics in Osceola by about 10,000.

The flip in numbers is very likely due to the accelerated migration of Puerto Ricans to Osceola from the island and other states. Hispanic registered voters jumped 27 percent in the county from  2012 to  2016.

Between 2005 and 2014, the Puerto Rican population zoomed more than 82 percent to nearly 92,000 in Osceola. The county has the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state as well.

Orange and Seminole also experienced dramatic boosts in Latino voters. Orange has seen its Hispanic voter numbers increase 21.5 percent, compared with 2012 while Seminole experienced a 17.6 percent expansion.

All of which is to say that the Hispanic boom is going to have an effect on the outcome of the November elections because Latinos make up a greater share of all Central Florida voters and they nearly always turn out in larger numbers during presidential election years, compared with nonresidential or midterm elections.


County       Hispanics as Percent of All Voters

Osceola                 43%

Orange                   22%

Seminole              13%

Miami-Dade         56%

FLORIDA           15% 

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Donald Trump Thinks He ‘Won the Hispanics’

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Donald Trump said he “won the Hispanics” after the Indiana primary. / photo donaldjtrump.com

In Donald Trump‘s fact-challenged world, he “won the Hispanics,” he said after winning the Indiana presidential preference primary this week.

But now that he has cleared the Republican primary field, what chance does Trump really  have to win Hispanic votes in November’s general election?

It is going to be difícil or difficult.

Trump’s negative rating is 77 percent among Latinos, according to a national Gallup poll. In Florida, Hispanics are even more sour on the New York businessman, with 87 percent viewing Trump unfavorably, compared with 42 percent for Hillary Clinton.

So it seems Trump would have to do some serious fence mending and it would have to be a “huge” effort. Even so, he   still may not make it because most Hispanics lean Democrat and an increasing number are independent. Trump needs about 40 percent of the national Hispanic vote – to say nothing of the Latino vote in a swing state like Florida – to win the keys to the White House. And that’s a Republican Party estimate.

In his speech after  the Indiana primary, Trump said nothing – nada – about “building that big beautiful wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border which he has used as bait to attract an anti-immigrant vote. As if to wipe the slate clean.

But Hispanics remember. After all, Trump made disparaging remarks about Mexicans during his very first outing to announce his presidential candidacy.

Here in Florida, about 57 percent of the state’s foreign born are Latinos, according to the census. More than half of these are citizens and can cast a ballot in November.

News stories from the West Coast and other places state that Latino immigrants are  becoming citizens in order to vote this year. It’s a deja vu of the mid 1990s when California Gov. Pete Wilson launched a tirade against immigrants that effectively turned the state blue. California has elected only one Republican governor since then – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

No, Donald Trump hasn’t “won the Hispanics.” That’s a wall that even he may not be able to scale.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Activists Draw Attention to Puerto Rico’s Plight

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Frederick Vélez of Organize Now urges elected officials to take Puerto Rico’s fiscal plight seriously. /photo by Maria Padilla

As expected Puerto Rico this week defaulted on $422 million in debt, while Congress is no closer to reaching an agreement on a debt restructuring.

To draw attention to the island’s ongoing fiscal plight, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla made a 10-minute address to the island in which he pleaded that Puerto Rico could do no more, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to Congress imploring it to act and local activists pushed for solidarity among local elected officials on behalf of Puerto Rico.

“All elected officials need to take this crisis seriously,” said Frederick Vélez, lead organizer for Latino affairs at Organize Now, who formerly worked for Cong. José Serrano (D-NY) and arrived in Orlando just two weeks ago. “We need a plan so that we know that we’re being taken seriously,” he stated outside the Centro Borinqueño in east Orange County, where Organize Now held a press conference.

Organize Now has collected over 3,000 signatures on a petition pressing for no further cuts in education, pensions, healthcare and other essential services on the island. The organization said it would send the petition to federal, state and local elected officials.

“Today there’s a community here that’s going to make sure all Puerto Ricans are going to vote in the next election,” said labor organizer Jimmy Torres-Vélez, who is part of the coalition. “We are going to require that city and county commissioners have a stand on Puerto Rico.”

State Rep. Víctor Torres (D-48) pointed out that he and others earlier attempted to pass a resolution in symbolic support of Puerto Rico in the State House but it failed. “The House leadership wouldn’t support it so it didn’t happen,” he said, adding that support for the island is a “no brainer.”

In Congress, meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are wide apart on the issues, particularly on imposing a financial control board of mostly outsiders to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances – Republicans are for it, Democrats are against.

In his letter to Congress Treasury Secretary Lew stated, “Absent enactment of a workable framework for restructuring Puerto Rico’s debts, bondholders will experience a lengthy, disorderly, and chaotic unwinding, with non-payment for many a real possibility.”

Thus far, Puerto Rico has defaulted on $1.9 billion of $72 billion in debt, according to the U.S. Treasury. Another $1 billion is due in July. This week’s default technically involved about $389 million because the island reached an accord with some debtors to delay payment.

A shrinking tax base due to historic-level migration is making the situation worse. More than 112,000 people fled the island in the first 10 months of 2015, according to the latest reports. Florida is the No. 1 destination and Central Florida, in particular, is home to the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state.

There are 1 million Puerto Ricans living in Florida, which has experienced a significant jump in the population group since 2010.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor