Latinos in a dilemma this election season
Latinos are becoming a decisive voting bloc, but neither President Obama nor challenger Mitt Romney has a great record on a defining issue for them — immigration.
Latinos voted in record numbers during the historic 2008 elections and played a vital role in the coalition that helped catapult Obama into the White House. The issue of immigration was fundamental to how Latinos voted not only because it strikes at the heart of their identity, but also because almost half of Latino voters in 2008 were foreign-born. Immigrant Latinos also voted for Obama at a higher rate (80 percent vs. 72 percent) than U.S.-born Latinos.
In return for their support, Latinos were given presidential cabinet and advisory positions, and for the first time in American history, witnessed the appointment of a Latino to the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, the Obama administration’s stance on workers’ rights, women’s rights and gay rights has benefited many Latinos.
But by deporting more immigrants (more than 1 million) than any previous president, Obama has also earned the title — and will go down in history as — our nation’s premier “Deportation President” (a title previously bestowed upon President Eisenhower, who presided over the infamous 1950s “Operation Wetback” that resulted in the forcible repatriation of 800,000 U.S. and foreign-born Latinos).
Obama’s deportation policy has had devastating consequences that have torn immigrant families apart and terrorized Latino communities across the country. He thus gave Republicans a golden opportunity to attract enough Latino voters to help them win back the White House.
President George W. Bush understood the importance of appealing to Latinos. With his relatively pro-immigration stance, he succeeded in winning more than 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. Yet at their own peril, conservatives have decided to take the opposite route.
From the hostile rhetoric of their elected (i.e., Tom Tancredo and James Sensenbrenner) and nonelected (i.e., Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan) leaders to their prevention of immigration reform in Congress, opposition to bilingual education, attempts to end birthright citizenship and the deep-sixing of the DREAM Act, Republicans are unquestionably the more nativist of the two political parties.
In the primaries, Romney went out of his way to prove how anti-immigrant he was. And his suggestion about self-deportation did not sit well with many Latinos.
He also promised to work closely on immigration issues with Kris Kobach, the architect of the anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama. After receiving Kobach's endorsement, Romney said how “proud to earn Kris’ support” he was and proclaimed: “We need more conservative leaders” like him.
Because of Republicans’ rhetoric and policy prescriptions, the latest survey data indicate that the vast majority (66 percent vs. 23 percent) of Latino voters plan to support Obama over Romney. But it’s unlikely that Latinos will once again have the record-setting voter turnout rate Obama needs to win a second term. His deportation policy will likely dampen the enthusiasm for him and diminish turnout.
If Democrats lose the presidency because they fail to recapture key Latino swing states like Colorado, Nevada or Florida, Obama may be electorally “deported” from the White House as an indirect result of his own deportation policy.
Chris Zepeda-Millán is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago. He can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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