While Mitt Romney may have the Republican presidential nomination all but secured, his lack of Latino support could cost him the election in November.
People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up 16.3 percent of the country’s population, and only 14 percent of this group said they would vote for Romney, according to a Fox News poll conducted in March — significantly less support than Republican presidential nominees have enjoyed from Latinos in past years. Leaders of Latino advocacy organizations in New Haven and on campus said Romney is particularly unattractive to Hispanic voters because of his stance on immigration issues.
“If [Romney] is trying to convince Latinos to vote for him, he’s doing it the completely wrong way,” said Chris Rodelo ’15, a member of Yale’s MEChA and the undocumented students advocacy organization Connecticut Students for a Dream.
Romney has taken a hard line on immigration issues. He said he would veto the DREAM Act — which would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents who complete two years of college or military service — and is supportive of the Arizona anti-immigration laws, which gave local law enforcement the authority to detain anyone suspected of being undocumented and made failing to carry immigration documents a crime.
Romney’s anti-immigration rhetoric, students said, is also contributing to his unpopularity among Latinos. For example, Rodelo said, Romney has made statements suggesting that the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States should be deported. Benjamin Wilson ’14, a member of the Yale Political Union’s conservative Federalist Party, also said Romney’s rhetoric has been less than “stellar,” pointing to Romney’s statement that the answer to unlawful immigration is “self-deportation.”
New Haven’s Latino community — 27.4 percent of the city’s population — has paid close attention to Romney’s positions.
According to community leaders, Elm City Latinos are concerned by Secure Communities, a new federal deportation program that checks fingerprints of suspected criminals submitted by local police to the FBI against Immigration and Customs Enforcement databases in an effort to deport criminals residing in the country illegally. Megan Fountain, a volunteer for immigrant advocacy organization Unidad Latina en Accion, said while Secure Communities is intended to target dangerous criminals, in practice it has led to the deportation of people who have only committed minor infractions.
Though Secure Communities was an initiative of the Obama administration, several Hispanic leaders said that if elected, Romney would likely continue to support the law and others like it, whereas they are hopeful that Obama will be receptive to calls for reforming the program, said Carolina Bortolleto, the college access program coordinator for Connecticut Students for a Dream.
Concern over Secure Communities is not limited to border states, she said. Though Connecticut will not be an influential swing state in the 2012 presidential election, the Hispanic vote in border and and non-border swing states such as Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado could be crucial. These four states have a total of 49 electoral votes and an average Hispanic population of 29 percent.
In general, Rodelo said, the Latino community has leaned toward Democratic candidates. Diana Enriquez, the moderator of MEChA, said the Democratic Party has made an effort to establish relationships with clergy members in Latino communities. She added that while it is sometimes difficult to believe that immigration laws will change under the Obama, his administration has taken some steps in the right direction.
But the Latino vote does not hinge exclusively on immigration issues, Rodelo said, calling the Hispanic community “a lot more nuanced than that.”
Wilson cited Bush as a Republican candidate who was able to appeal to a large portion of the Hispanic population because he spoke to Latino voters respectfully. The conservative element of the Hispanic community is significant, Enriquez said, and a Republican candidate who capitalizes on it could do some “serious damage” to Obama’s electoral prospects this fall.
Hispanics make up 13.4 percent of Connecticut’s population, according to the most recent census.