It’s NOT Just the Economy, Stupid – Mitt Romney and Immigration Reform

Rallying for the DREAM Act in Los Angeles

Students rally for the DREAM Act in Los Angeles, CA. (Antonio R. Villaraigosa/flickr)

When it comes to immigration reform Mitt Romney seems to have turned into an artful dodger.

The national coalition director for the Romney campaign, Joshua Baca, summarized their Latino strategy in a recent New York Times article:

“Whatever the Obama campaign wants to do with regards to targeting Hispanic voters, that’s fine. Our message is going to be, ‘It doesn’t matter if you are Hispanic, if you are a woman, if you are African-American: It’s about the economy.”

Baca cited polls that show Latino voters are more concerned about the economy and jobs. He will need to rethink the strategy.

In the first poll after President Obama’s announcement on Friday that he will grant temporary work permits to eligible undocumented youth, 49 percent of Latino voters in battleground states reported that the policy change made them more enthusiastic about the President’s reelection—a major shift from a previous poll that showed 41 percent of them had lost enthusiasm for Obama.

These results are not surprising.

As immigrants, most Latinos are in this country without the expectation that the government will create a job for them. The vast majority of Hispanics are resourceful and entrepreneurial—in spite of discriminatory barriers thrown their way. They just want a fair chance to succeed.

Under the promise of America, however, Hispanic U.S. citizens—many of them immigrants or children of immigrants—expect to be part of a society that is more inclusive, free and respectful than the one they left behind.

This explains why 61 percent of Hispanics—in spite of having being disproportionally hit by unemployment—reject Romney and say they support Barack Obama, because the President’s immigration message, notwithstanding his alarming record on deportations, is simply much less damaging and divisive.

It takes a bit of the will the GOP lacks to recognize what motivates Latinos at the voting booth.  Even after the President’s announcement, some of Romney’s surrogates and strategists kept reciting the “it’s only about the economy” soundbite. This approach is clearly misguided and ill-informed.

As the Romney campaign tiptoes to maintain the support of those who care only about punishing immigrants, it seems to have long ago decided to dodge any serious conversation about immigration reform.

Things in politics can change quickly. Soon we may begin to see the GOP candidate breaking his silence on immigration. Under pressure by media and advocates, Romney will need to provide details of his “long term solution” for DREAMers which he has been mentioning in the last few days.   And he’ll need to craft some very smart talking points to correct his support of Arizona’s SB 1070 when the Supreme Court issues a decision later this month.

But truth be told, such a change in Mitt Romney’s tone is something Latino observers have been waiting for since he survived the challenges from the extreme right that shaped the early Republican primaries. I would not be entirely surprised if Romney’s campaign now bets on a blitz of negative ads over real policy answers to try to confuse undecided Latino voters in swing states and hope for their absenteeism on Election Day. That would make sense as a strategy, because deep down there is no way Republicans believe Hispanics will support a party that doesn’t have their back. That would be stupid.

Maibe Ponet is the Opinion Page editor at El Diario/La Prensa.  Follow her on twitter @maibeponet

This story is part of El Voto Latino/The Latino Vote 2012, a partnership of  Fi2W and El Diario/La Prensa.

 Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutMaibe Ponet
Maibe Ponet is a Venezuelan-American journalist. She is currently the Opinion Page Editor for El Diario La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States. She has worked as a reporter for leading Venezuelan national publications and was a staff writer for the Spanish language newspaper Hoy, where she covered local politics and NYC City Hall from 2002 to 2005. Following her departure from Hoy, she served as a press person for candidates, elected officials and city agencies, including the 2005 Democratic mayoral nominee Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the New York City Department of Education. Maibe is a former Independent Press Association Ethnic Journalism Fellow. She holds a BA in Journalism from the Central University of Venezuela, and a master's degree in Urban Policy and Management from The New School University.