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The Economy vs. Immigration: What Will Unlock the Latino Vote in 2012?

(Image: Feet In Two Worlds)

October 18, 2012

Panelists:

  • Maria Hinojosa, President and CEO, Futuro Media Group; Executive Producer and Anchor, Latino USA (moderator)
  • Fernand Amandi, Managing Partner, Bendixen & Amandi International
  • Jordan Fabian, Political Editor, Univisión News
  • Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition
  • Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center

Opening Remarks:

  • John Rudolph, Executive Producer, Feet in 2 Worlds
  • Jason Marczak, Director of Policy, AS/COA

Summary

This public discussion explored not only the potential impact of the Latino vote in next month’s U.S. elections, but the issues motivating the country’s fastest-growing demographic. While a broken immigration system remains a largely symbolic issue for many members of this community, Latinos will cast their votes based on their assessment of candidates’ views on the economy, education, and health care—especially as Hispanics are among those most adversely affected by poor socioeconomic conditions.

Renowned experts covering a broad array of sectors—including two journalists, a public opinion pollster, an economist, and an immigration activist—joined the panel to discuss various dimensions surrounding the Latino vote in November. This town hall was organized in collaboration with The Futuro Media Group, Feet in Two Worlds, and The New School’s Department of Global Studies, and is part of Americas Society’s Hispanic Integration and Immigration Initiative, which is funded by Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The discussion will be a segment on an upcoming broadcast of NPR’s Latino USA to be aired before the November vote.

Prior and Future Impact

Fernand Amandi noted that the Latino demographic has already influenced previous elections, specifically the 2010 midterm results for the U.S. Senate contests in Nevada and Colorado. He added that among the group of seven-to-nine swing states in this year’s presidential election, four in particular—Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Virginia—may well be decided based on the turnout of those states’ large Latino populations. In Florida, the big Cuban contingent which tends to vote Republican has begun to be counterbalanced by a growing Puerto Rican population, which tends to vote Democrat and has relocated from the New York area or the island in the past 20 years.

What’s more, the population is committed to voting: a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll noted that 77 percent of Latinos surveyed “definitely plan to vote,” mentioned Mark Hugo Lopez. This demographic is strongly favoring one candidate in particular; a poll from Latino Decisions observed earlier this month that President Barack Obama was leading Governor Mitt Romney by 44 percentage points among Latinos. The same survey underscored this gap when it comes to party affiliation: 61 percent of respondents believed that the Democratic Party best understands their community’s concerns, while only 10 percent of respondents thought the Republican Party did so.

Viewpoints on the Economy and Immigration

Latinos experienced a higher unemployment rate of 9.9 percent in September 2012 versus the national average of 7.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lopez also noted the high foreclosures and declining homeownership among the Latino community.

There is a strong connection between economic opportunities and immigration. Chung-Wha Hong explained that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants, and those companies employ roughly 10 million people today. She also emphasized that 28 percent of U.S. small businesses are owned by immigrants, with the rate of immigrant-owned business growth surging by 50 percent in the last 15 years. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are missing an opportunity by not linking immigration to greater economic prosperity, according to Hong.

This is precisely why reforms to the immigration system matter to most Latinos. While Obama did not keep his promise to fight for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in his first year, and while he has deported more undocumented immigrants in four years than his predecessor did in eight, his administration’s directive—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—allowed him to change the narrative, observed Hong. DACA allows immigrants who arrived to the United States as children without authorization to apply for work permits every two years with unlimited renewals, and defers any possible action by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Although Romney has pledged to honor approved DACA applications should he win, he promises to end the initiative. This pledge and the uncertainty of who will win on November 6 has kept many potential DACA applicants in the shadows.

Jordan Fabian has spoken with several Republican strategists and high-profile elected officials who are popular among Latinos such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He noted a divide in that party in regard to its approach toward immigration and spoke about what it will mean for earning Latino support in this and future elections. Fabian remarked that if more conservative elements of the Republican Party do not tamp down harsh and restrictive rhetoric toward immigrants, “Texas becomes a purple state.” Hong added that 90 percent of Latinos support CIR and 87 percent endorse DACA.