Will Immigration Decision Fuel Latino Turnout?

Experts say both the ruling and recent Obama announcement could energize voters.

June 25, 2012, 12:32 p.m.

The Su­preme Court may have giv­en Pres­id­ent Obama a double vic­tory when it handed down its rul­ing re­gard­ing Ari­zona’s con­tro­ver­sial im­mig­ra­tion law.

The Court on Monday not only af­firmed the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s right to set im­mig­ra­tion policy in strik­ing down three of the four pro­vi­sions in SB 1070; in up­hold­ing the most con­tro­ver­sial “show me your pa­pers” com­pon­ent — which re­quires po­lice to check the leg­al status of any­one they stop or ar­rest if they sus­pect they are here il­leg­ally—the high court may also have giv­en a his­tor­ic­ally re­luct­ant His­pan­ic elect­or­ate a real reas­on to turn out for the pres­id­ent.

“This [court rul­ing] is ex­actly what [Lati­nos] have been fear­ful of,” said Gary Se­gura, a polit­ic­al-sci­ence pro­fess­or at Stan­ford Uni­versity and a prin­cip­al at the polling firm Latino De­cisions. “The de­cision is kind of a win for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but also from the per­spect­ive of Latino voters, this [is­sue] is still a really big deal.”

Even as Demo­crats have had little else to cel­eb­rate in June, the pres­id­ent ap­pears to be on sol­id polit­ic­al foot­ing with re­gards to im­mig­ra­tion.

Ten days ago, to the de­light of Latino act­iv­ists, he an­nounced that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would halt de­port­a­tions and cre­ate a path to leg­al status for some young im­mig­rants who had been brought to the United States il­leg­ally when they were chil­dren.

Now the Obama cam­paign has a power­ful case to make when it paints a pic­ture for Lati­nos about what life un­der a Re­pub­lic­an ad­min­is­tra­tion could look like.

The most re­cent USA Today/Gal­lup poll shows that Obama has already opened up a wide gulf among Latino voters, lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an Mitt Rom­ney by 66 per­cent to 25 per­cent and put­ting Rom­ney in the weak­est po­s­i­tion with Lati­nos since Bob Dole in 1996.

But the great­er con­sequence of the Su­preme Court’s SB 1070 de­cision may be mo­bil­iz­a­tion among the Latino com­munity. As their num­bers have grown, Lati­nos have in­deed wiel­ded more in­flu­ence, usu­ally to the be­ne­fit of Demo­crats.

Even so, their power has been muted by tra­di­tion­ally tep­id par­ti­cip­a­tion com­pared with oth­er groups. About 21 mil­lion Lati­nos will be eli­gible to vote in Novem­ber, but only 10 mil­lion are re­gistered. If past serves as pre­ced­ent, even few­er will vote.

“The big ques­tion is turnout,” said GOP strategist Ana Nav­arro, who ad­vised 2008 Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­eeJohn Mc­Cain on Latino is­sues. “Between [Obama’s] Dream policy an­nounce­ment 10 days ago and this Su­preme Court de­cision, what was a very dis­il­lu­sioned and leth­ar­gic base un­til a couple of weeks ago is now en­er­gized.”

(RE­LATED: Full Battle­grounds 2012 Cov­er­age)

That has the po­ten­tial to make a dif­fer­ence in a num­ber of swing states in the South­w­est — Nevada, Col­or­ado, and New Mex­ico — where the Latino pop­u­la­tion has skyrock­eted over the past dec­ade. Polit­ic­al ana­lysts have also turned their at­ten­tion re­cently to Ari­zona, a tra­di­tion­ally Re­pub­lic­an strong­hold that nev­er­the­less has seen a siz­able in­crease in its Latino pop­u­la­tion and where “show me your pa­pers” ac­tu­ally will be felt. The Obama cam­paign re­cently began an ag­gress­ive re­gis­tra­tion ef­fort there.

“I’ve seen polling in the last few weeks com­ing out of Ari­zona that show it with­in the mar­gin of er­ror, which is shock­ing and would be a real cause of con­cern for Re­pub­lic­ans,” Se­gura said. “If Demo­crats can make Ari­zona com­pet­it­ive, that will be a dir­ect con­sequence of this law.”

Nev­er­the­less, Ari­zona-based polit­ic­al ana­lyst Mike O’Neil points out that the Latino vote has been oft-prom­ised and nev­er de­livered; 2012 would be a first if His­pan­ics do turn out in force.

“When you’ve got your­self or your neigh­bors pulled over on the street to be checked for pa­pers “¦ I think [that] be­comes po­ten­tially the grist for mo­bil­iz­a­tion,” O’Neil said. “Un­der­score is on the word po­ten­tial. They still have to beat the pave­ments and make it hap­pen.”

The Ari­zona de­cision is the second time in two weeks that ques­tions over im­mig­ra­tion policy have put Rom­ney in an awk­ward po­s­i­tion. The former Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor has been boxed in by his party’s po­s­i­tions on the is­sue, even as many in the GOP have em­phas­ized the im­port­ance of mak­ing in­roads with His­pan­ic voters, who are wield­ing more power at the bal­lot box with each passing elec­tion cycle.

In a sidestep that has marked Rom­ney’s deal­ings with the is­sue, he is­sued a brief state­ment as­sail­ing the pres­id­ent on his policies but didn’t of­fer much in the way of his own pro­pos­als.

“Rom­ney has got to say something more defin­it­ive than ‘I’m anti-Obama,’ “ O’Neil said. “Right now, Re­pub­lic­ans are talk­ing about build­ing a moat and put­ting al­ligators in the wa­ter, and Rom­ney’s try­ing to ap­pear not to be totally ter­ri­fy­ing to His­pan­ics. He has a very del­ic­ate dance to pull off with re­spect to that.”

What We're Following See More »
Former Pilot Steve Dickson to Head Federal Aviation Administration
2 hours ago

President Donald Trump will nominate former airline pilot Steve Dickson to be administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, a move that comes amid a major crisis for the agency following the fatal crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX passenger jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia, the White House said Tuesday.

Trump Threatens New Sanctions Against Venezuela
4 hours ago

"President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he may impose new strict sanctions on Venezuela in another attempt to force President Nićolas Maduro from office. ... Trump’s remarks came during a joint Rose Garden press conference with new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro." The two are working on a rocket launch facility in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is weighing whether to allow "U.S. or international forces to mass along his border with Venezuela."

Paul Ryan to Join Board of Fox Corporation
7 hours ago
Scott Walker to Lead Effort for Constitutional Convention
8 hours ago

"A national group says its campaign to convene an unprecedented U.S. constitutional convention to balance the federal budget has a new leader: former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The Center for State-led National Debt Solutions on Monday announced Walker will serve as its national honorary chairman. It marks one of the first efforts by Walker to re-enter the political fray since his November election loss to Gov. Tony Evers. In 2017, Wisconsin became the 28th state to request an Article V convention — so named for the article of the U.S. Constitution that sanctions the process." Thirty-four states must sign on to trigger a convention.

Administration Aims to Cap Student Borrowing
8 hours ago

"The Trump administration on Monday proposed placing limits on federal student borrowing programs as part of a series of initiatives to amend the Higher Education Act. ... A number of the proposals seek to change the borrowing and loan repayment process. A senior administration official said the White House wants to institute a limit on loans through the PLUS program, which graduate students and parents of undergraduates use to help pay for college or trade school."

The official did not say what the loan cap would be, but that it could vary by program rather than by institution.

The administration is also calling for Congress to simplify loan repayment programs, in part by condensing five income-driven repayment plans into one plan that would cap monthly payments at 12.5 percent of the borrower's discretionary income.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.