Despite Latinos' mounting disapproval of President Obama for his administration’s immigration policies, a majority of the demographic would still prefer to see him in the White House over his Republican challengers, according to a new study conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The study found that 59 percent of Latinos disapprove of Obama's handling of illegal immigrants in this country while 27 percent approve. The center estimates that about 81 percent of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the country are of Hispanic descent, although the group accounted for 97 percent of the immigrants deported in 2010.
“Deportations have reached record levels under President Obama, rising to an annual average of nearly 400,000 since 2009, about 30 percent higher than the annual average during the second term of the Bush administration and about double the annual average during George W. Bush’s first term,” according to the report.
But despite the outcry, the same study shows Latinos still back the president more than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In hypothetical match-ups against the two candidates, Obama currently enjoys a 68 percent to 23 percent advantage over Romney and a 69 percent to 23 percent advantage over Perry.
A study by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials revealed that the country will have an estimated 12.2 million Latino voters in 2012, an increase of about 26 percent from 2008.
Immigration has been an Achilles' heel for Perry, who saw his support among some Republicans plummet after being criticized for an in-state tuition bill he signed in 2001. The bill allows illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas universities provided they graduated from a Texas high school and have lived in the state for three years.
Perry has since tried to solidify his tough-on-immigration bona fides by campaigning with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” in the country is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice after it alleged Arpaio and his staff engaged in policies that unfairly targeted Latinos.
And despite the attacks from the right on Perry by those who label him soft on illegal immigrants, the state’s longest-serving governor has also drawn the ire of the Latino community in Texas after prioritizing a measure during the 2011 legislative session that would have banned so-called sanctuary cities. The legislation, which failed to pass twice despite Perry declaring it emergency legislation, would have denied state funds to entities that prohibited local law enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of people arrested or detained.
The continued support for Obama over any GOP candidate, however, could be seen as a “lesser of two evils” choice. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), removed a record 397,000 people from the U.S. last fiscal year, up from 392,000 the year before, which was also a record. The figures are in line with the Obama administration’s increased enforcement since 2009, which has resulted in more prosecutions in three years than President George W. Bush's administration accomplished in two terms.
The president has been dubbed by some immigrants rights groups the “deporter-in-chief” because of the policy. Even recent policy shifts, which include an emphasis on prioritizing removal efforts on criminals and the use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases, have been criticized by advocates as nothing more than window dressing. They point to the expansion of Secure Communities, which compares the fingerprints of people in police custody against a federal database to determine if the individuals are eligible for deportation under federal immigration laws, and Obama’s failure to push comprehensive immigration reform as proof that the president’s actions have not matched his 2008 campaign rhetoric.
But the administration defends the policies and uses them to fight back against Republican rivals, including Perry, who insist the border is not secure. The DHS released end-of-year statistics this month showing that apprehensions of illegal crossers have hit their lowest point in decades. Some 340,250 illegal immigrants were apprehended nationwide during the 2011 fiscal year, compared with 463,380 in 2010. There were about 327,580 apprehensions on the southwest border, including about 119,000 in Texas and 129,000 in Arizona. California and New Mexico saw 72,600 and 6,900 apprehensions, respectively. The administration says the dip reflects that fewer would-be crossers are making the attempt to breach this country’s border.