Immigration Top Concern for Latino Voters

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While President Obama enjoys strong support from Latino voters, the margin of support that could mean the difference between winning and losing in 2012 may depend on how Latino voters perceive his efforts on immigration reform and on deportations of undocumented immigrants, a recent poll found.

Latino voters care very much about the immigration issue and now cite it as their top priority in considering how they will vote in 2012, the survey, released this week, revealed. A record 52 percent of Latino voters told pollsters that immigration was their number one issue, while only 35 percent picked jobs or the economy as their main concern.

On a press teleconference June 13, Gary Segura, of the polling group Latino Decisions, told reporters this data flies in the face of Republican Party claims that Latino voters don't really care about the immigration issue. For example, Sen. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, known for his harsh anti-immigrant positions, has repeatedly claimed that only a tiny minority of Latino voters care about immigration and that Republicans should appeal to them on platitudes about patriotism and the "rule of law."

"Immigration is a major issue," Segura said. "It's a major issue because it  touches the lives of most if not all Latino voters, even those who are multiple generations after the migration experience in the United States."

The issue crosses many demographic boundaries such as income groupings, geography, age, and political affiliation, said Segura. A sizable minority of self-identified Republican Latinos also cited it as a top priority.

More than half of the survey's respondents said they know an undocumented person as either a family member, a co-worker, a friend or a neighbor. And one-fourth said they personally know someone who has faced deportation for immigration reasons.

In the Spanish-language media across the country, some aspect of the immigration remains a key story on a daily basis, said Pilar Marrero, senior political and immigration writer for the Los Angeles-based daily newspaper La Opinion. "It's everyday in the ethnic media, not because we're obsessed with it, but because the people who consume the news we report are directly affected by immigration discussions and action in the whole country."

Daily discussion on traditional and new social media daily have "reached incredible proportions," Marrero said.

Matt Barreto, also with Latino Decisions, explained that since the nationwide mass protests of harsh anti-immigration proposals by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2006, Latinos have increasingly prioritized immigration policy. Some of those measures would have made aid to undocumented immigrants a criminal act. "That's when it became personal," he said.

Measures such as Arizona's SB 1070 in Arizona and "copy-cat" laws recently passed in Georgia and Alabama have convinced many Latinos that Republicans are promoting not just an anti-immigrant environment but an anti-Latino one.

"Laws that are getting passed affect not just undocumented immigrants, they're affecting legal residents, U.S. citizens, and U.S.-born Latinos," Barreto said. "And that is definitely driving this as an issue."

Segura explained that anti-immigrant laws are driven by racial profiling, a problem that Latinos believe will affect them regardless of their citizenship status.

For example, local enforcement of immigration laws are supposed to target and deport undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, he pointed out. The most commonly cited criminal offense for deportation, however, is driving without a license. But the only way to discover if someone is driving without a license is to stop them for some other reason. And because rarely are other crimes cited, such stops seem to be made because the driver "looks" illegal.

"This tells you a little bit about how these anti-immigrant provisions can and must proceed," Segura said. "They can and must proceed as a form of racial profiling."

The survey found that the vast majority of Latinos perceive these policies as hostile to themselves, their families and their communities. A mere one in eight Latinos said they believed the Republicans were doing a "good job" in "reaching out to Hispanics." More than seven in 10 Latinos said Republicans either "don't care too much" or are "hostile" to Latinos.

In California, New York, and New Jersey the numbers appear even more dire for Republicans. Fewer than one in 10 Latinos saw the Republicans positively, while 80 percent in California and almost 90 percent in New York and New Jersey saw them as unconcerned or outright hostile.

In contrast, President Obama's advocacy of comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and legal efforts to block racial profiling laws like SB 1070 have earned him high marks among Latinos. Sixty-eight percent say they approve of his job as President, and almost as many say they are certain to vote for him or are leaning toward voting for him in 2012. A similar number expressed enthusiasm for casting their vote in 2012 as well.

The story inside these apparently strong numbers suggests some underlying weaknesses, Barreto and Segura were quick to point out.

Support for congressional Democrats is tepid at best among Latinos, with significant numbers saying they believe that many Democrats avoided the immigration issue or are ignoring them as a community.

Likewise, though most Latinos blamed Republican obstruction for the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, about four in 10 Latinos believe the President could have done more to pass the bill. And two-thirds believe the President can and should take steps to stop the deportation of undocumented youth, their parents, or spouses of legal immigrants or citizens who have committed no crimes.

Critics of the Obama administration's action on deportations note that the number of deportations have risen to record levels and a majority are non-criminally based.

In fact, a group of city police chiefs last year denounced the passage of racial profiling laws like SB 1070, pointing out that immigrant communities have disproportionately low crime rates. The pressure on local law enforcement agencies to step immigration law enforcement would force a rift between those agencies and the communities they serve, deflecting resources from solving real crimes, the police chiefs said.

In the end, Latino voters want action on meaningful reforms that will protect them and their families from hostile and unfair treatment. "For either party to assume that inaction on immigration on the one hand or hostility on immigration on the other is not going to have an impact on their two-party vote share seems to me to be fantastical," Segura concluded.

Photo by Jim Winstead/ cc by 2.0/ Flickr

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  • @shirazz, You might try reading the entire article as it explains why Latinos who are citizens care about the immigrations issue.

    Posted by Larry Z., 06/25/2011 8:17pm (6 years ago)

  • it shouldnt be if they can vote. only real citizens can legally vote. if they can vote they are already citizens and immigration is a non issue for them.

    Posted by shirazz, 06/25/2011 1:00pm (6 years ago)

  • Not only are the motivations behind those laws mainly racist, the racist Lie about not being racists as well.

    They'll say how the Alabama law is simply 'enforcing federal law'. Never mind that it reeks of people-contempt, one of its instigators has been caught calling blacks aborigines, and 'dangerous'. (Yea right, let's look at history and see who's dangerous for whom).
    Let alone states aren't supposed to enforce federal law.

    Those Republicans have character issues, it's not just coincidence. The fact that they have no respect for others, not even schools or police chiefs, let alone Hispanic children, suggests seriously compromised moral consciences, and grandiosity.

    And many of the conservative base voters stem from the segregation era, and are essentially evil. They don't just hate, but plot based on it, and follow through on it. They don't stop at mean verbal insults. They're racists to the bone. If operation 'wetback' had been feasible today, they would've endorsed it from their sleep.

    Posted by 345, 06/21/2011 12:45am (6 years ago)

  • Actually, @Don Honda, racist attacks on groups or individuals are not posted. Hate speech isn't free speech.

    Posted by Editors, 06/15/2011 5:45pm (6 years ago)

  • Oh, I see. Only the comments that back up your crazy articles are accepted and displayed. What a great example of journalistic integrity!

    Posted by Don Honda, 06/15/2011 12:54pm (6 years ago)

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