During an online forum broadcast last month by the Spanish-language Univision network, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney assured the mostly Latino audience that, if elected, he would achieve sweeping immigration reform, while also promising not to pursue mass deportation of the 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The Romney campaign has invested heavily in ads on Spanish-language media in swing states from Colorado to Virginia, and has deployed his son Craig, who speaks Spanish, to help court Latino voters.
These efforts underscore the fact that Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States and a crucial voting bloc in the 2012 election. Unfortunately for Romney, the outreach is also unlikely to alter his chances of winning over this constituency, which supports President Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates by a ratio of more than 2-to-1. Romney’s difficulties with Latino voters stem from his endorsement during the GOP primaries of more-punitive immigration policies, positions that appealed to the Republican Party base’s hard-line stance against undocumented immigrants. Notably, however, Romney’s position on immigration reform has grown increasingly vague and elusive in the waning stages of the campaign.
While enjoying a 30-40 percentage point advantage among Latino voters, Obama’s checkered immigration record has created strains of its own. The Obama administration’s failure to honor his 2008 pledge to secure comprehensive immigration reform, or even to make it a top priority, has angered pro-immigrant groups. The administration also has drawn the ire of some Latinos and immigration advocacy groups by advancing policies that resulted in a record number of deportations in Obama’s first term. With a decisive edge among Latino voters, the challenge for the Obama campaign has been how to energize these supporters enough to turn up at the polls. Demonstrating the advantages of incumbency, Obama issued an executive order -- known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) -- in June to grant immunity from deportation for some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. He also has reminded pro-immigration audiences that the chief hurdle to comprehensive immigration reform and some form of legal relief for undocumented immigrants has been the resolute opposition of congressional Republicans.