The 2008 election revealed an increased minority-voting trend that largely favored Barack Obama. Among the minority vote, Obama received a large backing from Latino voters, obtaining about 67% of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls. With the 2012 elections approaching, the question remains, “Will Obama carry the same weight of the Latino votes he held in 2008?”
In 2008, Obama’s platform was to create or bring “change” to America. Obama brought attention to the issue of immigration, one that largely resonates with the Latino community. Despite his call for comprehensive reform, Obama has failed to deliver his promise for an immigration bill and continues to be criticized for deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants. Although the Obama administration has inconsistently responded to immigration issues, recent proposals (most notably the “hardship waiver”), will rekindle hopes for immigration reform and will prompt many Latino voters to reelect Obama in 2012.
During his term in 2010, Obama also pushed for the DREAM Act. Despite calling on Congress to pass this bill, which would create a path to legal residency for undocumented students who came to the United States at a young age, the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate. Despite this decision, Obama continued to say he would work to resurrect the piece of legislation in Congress, but it has yet to occur.
Fast forward to 2012. During his State of the Union speech, Obama called on lawmakers to send him legislation on immigration, boldly stating, “We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.” Additionally, Obama alluded to DREAM Act telling Congress that at the least, they should stop deporting “responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country.” These sentiments are nothing new to Obama, who made similar, if not the same, comments last year in his 2011 State of the Union speech. The difference from this year and last year is that in 2011, Obama’s track recorded on immigration was nonexistent, while the issue in 2012 remains uncertain.
Latino voters have taken notice to these empty promises on immigration. Surveys at the end of 2011 show the Latino approval ratings of Obama have declined to 49% from 58% in 2010. According to the same survey, Obama’s high disapproval ratings are a consequence of his deportation policy.
Without a doubt, the immigration issue is a difficult one to tackle and one that repels bipartisan support. Despite Obama’s failures on this issue, Latino voters will continue to support him come election time … more so by default than by choice. The GOP has severed much of their Latino support by exclusively supporting the xenophobic, anti-immigration laws in Arizona, Alabama, and other states. The rhetoric is no different with the remaining 2012 Republican candidates, who have put forth a whole gamut of immigration policies, or lack thereof.
In Iowa, Mitt Romney made it clear he would oppose the DREAM Act, and recently aligned himself with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of the Arizona and Arizona immigration laws. Rick Santorum opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants, voted against a 2006 Guest Worker Program that would create a path of citizenship, and stands against the availability of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. It is clear from their stance on immigration and responses in the republican debates that these candidates are attempting to “out anti-immigrate” the other.
Aside from showing where Latinos stand on issues, the 2012 election will show Republicans that they must take steps to compromise on policies to attract the ever-growing Latino voters. Despite the inconsistent response to immigration, the majority of Latinos will align themselves with the Democratic Party and vote to re-elect Obama.
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