Forum: Scholar Offers View of 2012 Latino Presidential Vote Outlook

WASHINGTON – When Stanford University political science professor Gary M. Segura first started tracking Latino voter support for President Barack Obama in November 2010, it hovered around 60 percent.

But in a new poll released by Latino Decisions—an opinion research firm co-founded by Segura—Latino voter support for Obama has reached a record high of 70 percent.

Citing the record number of deportations that have taken place under the Obama administration, Segura described the recent surge in support for Obama among Latino voters as being a case of choosing between the “frying pan and the fire.”

The surge follows the Obama administration’s June 15 “Dream” announcement that eased immigration enforcement action against undocumented students. The Latino Decisions poll was conducted 7-16 July.

“Latinos were certainly not happy with the high level of deportations,” Segura said Thursday in an interview with Diverse following remarks he made at a Center for American Progress panel discussion about the Latino vote in 2012.

“They recognize that there was some pandering that took place with the administration’s relief with the Dream situation,” Segura said of the Obama administration’s June 15 “Dream” announcement, questioned by some as being a political tactic to win a second term in office.

The action—taken by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—provides certain young people brought to the United States as young children the opportunity to seek relief from removal if they meet certain criteria, such as being in school, graduating from high school and not being convicted of a felony.

The action is referred to as the “Dream” decision because it temporarily achieves some of what the stalled Dream Act would have achieved legislatively.

“The president probably believes it’s the right thing to do. I’m not that cynical,” Segura said of the Obama administration’s Dream action.

“But what’s the alternative? Is the alternative candidate going to deport less people and is it better to not have administrative relief?” Segura asked in reference to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has previously expressed opposition to the Dream Act and has criticized Obama’s relief decision. “So I think it’s the best of the available circumstances.”

Segura says the Obama administration’s Dream action was just one of several steps the administration has taken that have garnered increased support among Latino voters.

Other steps include appearances by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the National Council of La Raza conferences, and the administration’s opposition to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 immigration law.

Much of the controversial SB1070 law was struck down last month by the U.S. Supreme Court following a challenge by the Obama administration, but the court left standing a provision that requires state law enforcement officers to make a “reasonable attempt . . . to determine the immigration status” of any person they stop, detain or arrest on some other legitimate basis if “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States.”

President Obama has expressed concern about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of those they suspect to be in the country illegally.

Romney, on the other hand, has expressed support for SB1070 and stressed that states have the right to secure their borders.

The topic of immigration dominated much of the discussion Thursday at the Center for American progress event titled, “Rep. Xavier Becerra on the Latino Vote in 2012 and Beyond.”

At the event, Rep. Becerra (D-California) cast his personal story as the son of immigrants from Mexico and being the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree as indicative of the aspirations of Latino immigrants as a whole.

“It doesn’t take very much to understand why immigration is so important to Latinos,” Becerra said. “And it shouldn’t take any pollster or politician very long to recognize that what Latinos are saying is … Just let me work. Let me build this country. Let me give my children a chance to get educated. If you do that, I’m going to reward this country not just with the fruit of my labor but with the loyalty that comes when you show me you’re going to let me do that.”

Becerra said politicians who fail to recognize Latino contributions to the U.S. should “learn or face the peril of your indifference.”

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, shared plans her organization has to get more Latinos to naturalize and register to vote in about half a dozen states in an effort to tip the balance in the 2012 presidential election.

“We have the tools now for the Latino community to be their own champions,” Murguía said. In certain states where Latinos naturalize and register to vote to the fullest potential, she said, “there’s no question we will be the swing vote.”