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Report: Immigration tops the list for Latino voters, and it's personal

Photo by nathangibbs/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Source: Latino Decisions

President Obama's speech in El Paso, Texas today regarding immigration reform has been characterized by some as an effort to appeal to Latino voters while defending his immigration record. And for good reason, a new poll indicates, because the Latino electorate remains focused on immigration as a front-burner issue.

The poll measured the importance of immigration as a federal policy issue with different subsets of Latino voters; it is one of a series of tracking polls conducted by impreMedia (the parent company of La Opinión) and the polling firm Latino Decisions.

According to the results, Latino voters who were asked to identify the most important issues that leaders in Washington, D.C. should address placed immigration at the top of the list overall, above the economy, education and health care.

The priorities varied among smaller subsets: For example, U.S.-born Latino voters ranked immigration second behind the economy, while first-generation immigrants ranked the economy second. And interestingly, while both Latino Democrats and Republicans ranked immigration as the top issue to address, more Republicans than Democrats placed it at the top of the list.

Today's Latino electorate weighs immigration more heavily than prior generations, according to the report. Recent enforcement-based policies, which have affected Latinos beyond just the undocumented population, have made the issue personal for many. From the report:

The vigorous enforcement of deportation policy has a palpable, direct, negative impact on daily life for millions of Latinos, not just unauthorized immigrants. Communities, families, businesses and schools absorb the impact when relatives, parents, customers, friends, and students are suddenly gone.

...For millions of Latinos, immigration politics is a reality, not an abstraction observed in news stories.  As President Obama found during his Univision Town Hall on Hispanic Education event, it is difficult to engage Latinos on other issues when immigration, and all that it implies, lingers in the political context. This is a sharp shift from prior generations with little demonstrable interest in the issue. Candidates and strategists relying on such out-dated trends, feeling confident they can win over the Latino electorate without addressing immigration because “Latino voters don’t care about immigration”, ignore the reality upon us today.

The complete report is on the Latino Decisions website.