Friday, Feb. 3, 2012 | 7:36 p.m.
Democratic Party members, inserting their voice into an immigration discussion that recently has focused on the policies of the Republican presidential candidates, reiterated their belief that President Barack Obama has the most sensible immigration plan and is still the best choice for Hispanic voters.
Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Linda Chavez-Thompson, Nevada Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange, state Sen. Mo Denis and state Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, both of the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus, all joined Dream Act advocates during a Friday news conference at the North Las Vegas offices of Hermandad Mexicana to stump for Obama and outline the immigration policies championed by Democrats.
Speakers focused on GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, who has said he would veto the Dream Act and does not support a path to citizenship for those already in the country illegally, repeatedly referring to his immigration policies as “extreme.”
“If Mitt Romney becomes the Republican nominee, his position on immigration would be the most extreme of any presidential nominee of our time,” Chavez-Thompson said. “It is truly astounding that he would deport all undocumented workers no matter how long they’ve been here or what they’ve contributed to our society. Mitt Romney now derides as magnets comprehensive immigration reform proposals that require immigrants to pay a fine, register with the government, work for years, pay taxes and not take public benefits before applying for citizenship.”
Obama garnered 67 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide in 2008, a step back for the Republican Party after George W. Bush won 40 percent of those voters in 2004. The Republican National Committee has made it clear it expects the GOP to perform better this year, and it has ramped up efforts to reach Hispanic voters across the nation.
“We are interested in increasing our percentage (among Hispanic voters),” said Bettina Inclan, Hispanic outreach director for the RNC, which has set up Spanish-language websites and Twitter feeds to reach voters. “There are a lot of efforts going forward to make sure we are connecting with community leaders and have a strong ground game.”
Inclan spoke to the media Friday on a national conference call in which she and RNC political director Rick Wiley emphasized that whoever the eventual Republican nominee is, he will be a better candidate than Obama to facilitate an economic recovery, the issue Hispanic voters care about most.
In North Las Vegas, Lange pointed to a national jobs report released Friday showing January’s growth, a net of 243,000 new jobs created, the most in nine months and almost double what most economists had forecast.
“Under the president’s leadership, the economy has added private-sector jobs for the 23rd straight month, for a total of 3.7 million jobs over that period,” Lange said.
Jennifer Korn, executive director of the unaffiliated, center-right Hispanic Leadership Network, said she already has seen the results of the RNC’s increased effort.
“The power of the Hispanic vote is there, and both Democrats and Republicans are aware of this and will be working to engage those voters,” she said. “We are seeing a lot more ads, from both the DNC and RNC, earlier on, and they are hiring people who are working on Hispanic outreach. They’ve made it a focus now.”
Korn says that while Hispanic voters favor comprehensive immigration reform over solely increasing border enforcement and overwhelmingly support the Dream Act, it is not a foregone conclusion that Obama is the Hispanic voters’ choice.
“One of the president’s campaign promises is that he would pass comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “He had a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first two years and they didn’t pass it. We are scratching our heads asking: ‘Why didn’t you do it?’ ”
Korn added that the Republican candidates’ lack of support for the Dream Act should not be a point of focus for voters because larger immigration reform could render the issue moot.
Democratic representatives point to changes in immigration policy under the Obama administration as steps in the right direction while total immigration policy reform remains a goal. Obama reiterated his support for the Dream Act in his recent State of the Union address.
Under the Obama administration, the percentage of deportees with a criminal record reached a high of 44 percent in 2010, up from 29 percent in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center.
Additionally, a review of deportation cases is under way to prioritize those involving criminals and, in some instances, place a hold on low-priority deportation proceedings.
The Obama administration also has announced its intention to streamline the application process for many relatives of U.S. citizens currently eligible for permanent resident status, thus minimizing the amount of time applicants would be separated from their families before receiving their visas.
During the past decade, the Hispanic population almost doubled in Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia, according to Census data. All were states Obama won in 2008 and Bush took in 2004. Latino voters, while they lag behind caucasian and African-American voting levels, also are stepping up their political participation.
Nationally, they accounted for about 7.4 percent of the electorate in the 2008 elections, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The National Association of Latino Elected Officials estimates Hispanic participation this year could reach 8.7 percent of total votes cast, and at least 12.2 million Hispanics will cast ballots this year.
Polls have shown a small boost in the number of Hispanics who say the Republican Party is the better party for them, and among Hispanic registered voters, 35 percent described their political views as conservative, 32 percent as moderate and 28 percent as liberal.
“The swing states are really where we’ll see the importance of Hispanic voters during the general election,” Korn said. “We are talking about Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida. These are big states where the candidates will be competing and Hispanics can really make the difference.”