Latino leaders say the administration hasn’t done enough to push for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, while deporting too many immigrants. Still, the administration has sued to overturn tough immigration laws in two states, and is weighing challenges in others. For the president, it’s a difficult political balancing act.
President Obama came into office with strong Latino support, having won two-thirds of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. But for some, that support has turned to disillusionment.
"There’s a deep sense of betrayal and disappointment towards the Obama administration," said Sarahi Uribe, coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Indeed, the latest Gallup poll shows his support among Latino voters has fallen to 48 percent, a new low.
Uribe singles out a program called Secure Communities, in which local police check the immigration status of those they arrest on other violations. The administration says the program has led to some 195,000 criminals being deported this past year — about half of all deportations.
Uribe says many of those caught are for traffic violations and minor offenses.
"The president ran on a platform of immigration reform," she said, "but what we’ve seen is that he’s actually leaving behind a legacy of deportation and criminalization."
Latino leaders say the administration has been too tough on immigrants here illegally, deporting some 400,000 a year — more than the Bush administration ever deported in a single year.
The leaders also say the administration hasn’t done enough to push issues important to them, such as comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, which would allow some children of illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition for college, and a path to citizenship.
Neither immigration reform nor the DREAM Act got through Congress. In a roundtable with Latino journalists last week, Obama said he couldn’t pass the measures on his own. And, he insisted, the administration is being selective in those it deports.
"What we can do is to prioritize enforcement, since there are limited enforcement resources, and say, ‘We’re not going to go chasing after this young man or anybody else who’s been acting responsibly and [who] would otherwise qualify for legal status if the DREAM Act passed," Obama said.
The administration is taking other steps that may well help it win back the support of Latino voters. It’s aggressively challenging tough immigration laws passed in Arizona and Alabama; and it’s considering suing to overturn immigration laws passed in Utah, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina.
Still, political science professor Gabriel Sanchez of the University of New Mexico is skeptical that these steps will help the president much with Latino voters.
"About a quarter of Latino voters know somebody personally who has been deported over the last several years," Sanchez said. "That is very difficult to overcome with a change in policy this late in the game."
But political analyst Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a visiting scholar at the University of Texas, says immigration isn’t the only important issue to Hispanic voters.
"Immigration is an issue of concern to Latinos," she said, "but that doesn’t mean that we also don’t also care about issues such as the economy and education — and actually those are issues that really affect the bulk of Latinos in a more day-to-day fashion than does immigration."
In those areas, says DeFrancesco Soto, the administration can point to issues like the president’s proposal for a national infrastructure bank, which would mean more construction jobs that might be filled by Latinos.
The Republicans running for president, with the exception of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, are taking a hard line on immigration issues. So the real worry for the president isn’t Latinos voting for Republicans — it’s that they won’t vote at all.