Latino vote makes immigration policy a key issue in presidential election

It is no accident that one of Mitt Romney’s favorite surrogates on the campaign trail is Marco Rubio, the Florida senator of Cuban ancestry, who rallied a crowd Thursday night in Delaware County. In a speech that emphasized Romney’s plans for the economy, Rubio also spoke of his own immigrant roots. It’s also no accident that Obama peppers some of his speeches with a bit of Spanish. Latinos are the fastest-growing subset of American voters, and that makes immigration, a crucial nexus of domestic and foreign affairs, a key issue in Tuesday’s vote.

Polls show Latinos favoring Obama by as much as 3-1.

Though both the president and the former Massachusetts governor speak of a “broken” immigration system ripe for reform, they favor fundamentally different approaches to the hotly contested problem of illegal immigration.

Early in his GOP primary campaign, Romney offered hard-line solutions such as “self-deportation” for the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

He since has softened his tone somewhat, but still supports tough, Arizona-style laws and opposes efforts to give legal status to unauthorized immigrants without first requiring that they leave the country. His top adviser on this issue heads the movement to give states more latitude in enforcement.

Obama supports the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would put undocumented youths on a path to citizenship provided they entered the United States before turning 16, completed high school or earned a GED, have no criminal record, and lived here continuously for at least five years. If eligible, they would have six years in which to obtain a two-year college degree or complete two years of military service.

An attempt to pass the DREAM Act was defeated in the Senate in 2010.

In June, Obama used his executive authority to promulgate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. To be eligible, petitioners must have been younger than 16 when they arrived, younger than 31 when the initiative was announced, have a high school diploma or GED, or have served honorably in the military. If they meet those criteria, they get a work permit and a renewable, two-year deferment from deportation.

Romney has said he opposes the DREAM Act; he and others who support strict immigration control say DACA is no better. At the same time, he said he wants to provide relief for DREAM Act-eligible youths under an as-yet unspecified plan for comprehensive immigration reform.

His campaign told the Boston Globe in October that Romney would not revoke work permits of DACA recipients approved by Jan. 20 – the date he will take office if elected. He would grant no new permits after that.

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