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Romney, Obama Remain Unpopular With Latino Voters – OpEd

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By Yusuf Fernandez

On 27 May, former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that if the Republican candidate for presidency Mitt Romney focuses on the economy, he would be able to get more than 40 percent of the Latino vote this fall.

“If Latinos conclude Mitt Romney is more likely to help my family have a job; he’s more likely to bring down the price of gasoline; he’s more likely to help my child have an effective education; does that overcome whatever the Democratic attack is?” Gingrich said. “And I think he’ll probably get the same percent that George W. Bush did, which will be up in the 40s.”

A recent NBC/WSJ poll then showed Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has a 34% gap among Latino voters. He received 27% of the Latino vote compared with Obama´s 61%. In 2004, Bush won 41% of the Latino vote.

Romney against the DREAM Act

However, things are not so simple. Actually, Mitt Romney´s promise to veto the so-called DREAM Act, which would legalize young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children if they attend at least two years of college or join the military, threatens to turn many Latino voters against him.

In the days before the Iowa caucuses last year, Romney opposed to the so-called DREAM Act and affirmed he would veto the measure.

“I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens”, Romney said in one of the primaries debates. “I have indicated I would veto the DREAM Act if provisions included in that act say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here can become permanent residents. I think that is a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply and get in line with everyone else.”

Romney continued relationship with famous anti-immigrant hawk Kris Kobach, has been also mentioned in US media, Kobach, who is co-author of Arizona and Alabama’s extreme anti-immigration enforcement laws, has showed his support for the Romney campaign, according to LA Progressive. Later, the Romney campaign issued a statement accepting Kobach’s endorsement and supporting his leadership on extreme immigration enforcement last in Arizona and South Carolina. Now, however, with Kobach actually appearing on Romney’s campaign trail, advocates say Kobach will damage Romney’s image among Latino voters.

Latinos’ outrage

His veto promise has outraged millions of Latinos, of whom 91% support the DREAM Act, and some Republicans worry that the position will leed a growing number of Latino voters in swing states, particularly in the south and west, to vote for the Democrats and Obama in November. These Republicans suggest that Romney is trying to get support from the far-right Republican voters at the expense of Latinos whose support he could need later in the fall.

“Romney is trying to be a conservative candidate. And if you do not become a conservative candidate, you cannot be the candidate of the Republicans. But you cannot be elected president just as a conservative candidate,” said Republican Herman Echevarr?a, a Cuban-American politician living in Miami.

Latinos have mobilised up and down the country, organising protests at Romney fundraising events, public appearances and even interrupting a Romney speech. “We are here because we are not going to let Romney attack the immigrant youth. We are very bothered and disappointed by his promise to veto the DREAM Act if it gets to the White House,” Dulce Matuz, president of the Arizona Coalition for the DREAM Act, told Efe.

These activists recall that the Latino vote has a growing importance in the United States. Today Latinos are just over 15% of the population – over 50 million, that is, the second largest Spanish-speaking “nation” in the world. By 2050, however, Latinos will be almost a third of the US population. “There is no route to the White House that does not go through a Latino neighborhood. Any winner in either party needs a significant proportion of Latino voters,” LA Progressive quoted Rep. Luis Gutierrez as saying. “When you say you want millions of us to leave the country … we will vote against you.”

Feeling the pressure, Romney has slightly changed his position and now says that he is for a reduced version of the DREAM Act that would only include military service and leave university students out. He has also supported the self-deportation of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants that are estimated to live in the country. However, both proposals have been completely rejected by Latino organizations. “He wants to make living conditions so miserable that immigrants will have to “self-deport”,” a Latino protester said.

Unifying factor

Some Latino activists think that it is good that Republicans are now revealing their anti-immigrations views because it will give Latinos and immigrant rights activists a cause to unite around and will persuade them to vote en masse in November.

“We must take into account that the Latino community has not been united. Our Latino politicians have not been especially progressive and are not very popular either. Indeed, they have been less than courageous when it comes to police brutality and capital punishment. They have been invisible during the escalation of tuition fees that is killing access to higher education for most. Few have spoken out on the Middle Eastern wars. To make things worse, Univision, the largest of the Spanish language networks, is run by conservative investors, and its content is heavily influenced by right wing Cuban Americans in Miami,” Rodolfo Francisco Acu?a, a professor and expert in Latino affairs, said.

“The Democratic Party and the left have done very little to fill the vacuum in political education for Latinos, although it is becoming its largest bloc of voters. The Democratic Party takes Latinos for granted because they have no other place to go, given the racism of the Republican Party”, Acu?a said.

Most Latinos (59% versus 27%) disapprove the way the Obama administration is handling deportations of unauthorized immigrants, according to a new national survey of Latino adults by the Pew Hispanic Center. They also said that deportations have reached record levels under President Obama, rising to an annual average of nearly 400,000 since 2009, about 30% higher than the annual average during the second term of the Bush administration.

However, Miguel Peres, a Latino journalits, thinks that Obama is still a more attractive choice for Latino voters. “President Obama deported more immigrants than any other president and failed to deliver on his promise to get Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But compared to Romney, who would clearly make life much more miserable for immigrants, the choice is easy,” he said.

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