Immigration Reform And The Latino Vote

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks to University of New Mexico Professor Gabriel Sanchez about Hispanic voters' attitudes toward immigration reform.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're joined now by Gabriel Sanchez, professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and director of research for Latino Decisions, a survey firm that focuses on Latinos in this country. Professor Sanchez, thanks very much for being with us.

GABRIEL SANCHEZ: Oh, it's my pleasure to be with you today.

SIMON: Is there overwhelming support among Hispanics for this immigration reform package?

SANCHEZ: Yeah. It's pretty clear and concise that Latino voters overall clearly support comprehensive immigration reform with a particular focus on the pathway to citizenship. That's been pretty consistent over the last several years and is holding very, very strong.

SIMON: So the pathway to citizenship seems to be the most important feature of the reform package?

SANCHEZ: Yeah. When we asked in our surveys variations on comprehensive immigration reform and we take out the pathway to citizenship, you see a drop in support. So that's clearly, got to be a central focus of the policy for it to gain traction among Latino voters.

SIMON: Professor Sanchez, can you help us understand some of the divisions of opinion among Hispanics on these issues? For example, does it seem to differ according to generation, country of origin?

SANCHEZ: Well, it's important to note that immigration policy has become salient to Latino voters relatively recently. If we were talking in 2000 to 2005, we would not have seen immigration policy even in the top five of most important policy issues for Latino voters. And back in that era, you saw a lot of variation on support for immigration across generational status, national origin group, income level.

Not so much these days. I think as a lot of the state policies and the federal policies that have been discussed are framed, at least in the minds of Latinos, to be anti-Latino in nature. Latinos have really pushed immigration more to the forefront among the policies that they care about. And you've seen more of a consensus among Latino voters and a shift to the left in terms of their overall policy attitudes on immigration. So I think you've seen some major developments on this issue that have really done away with a lot of the internal variation that we saw, you know, in, you know, 10 years, even 15 years from now.

SIMON: So it's your impression that a reaction, in a sense, was galvanized by some of the opinions that many Hispanics were hearing out of national politicians?

SANCHEZ: Absolutely. You take a look at this presidential race, some of the, you know, comments that Mitt Romney and others made during the Republican primary, you know, self-deportation being the obvious catchphrase. A strong majority of Latinos, about 60 percent of Latino voters who are U.S. citizens know somebody personally who is undocumented. And a pretty large percentage, somewhere in the ballpark of 25 to 30 percent, knows somebody who has been impacted by these laws to the point of being deported. So I think it's that personal connection to immigration policy that really makes the Latino population distinct from other communities in the United States on this issue.

SIMON: And if immigration reform passes, more or less in its current form, with bipartisan support, which political interest benefit from that?

SANCHEZ: Well, I think both parties will actually benefit from that. You know, we ask specifically in our election eve poll if the Republican Party took the lead on comprehensive immigration reform, including - and this is important - a path to citizenship status, would it make them more likely to vote Republican? Almost a third of our sample said that it would. So I think the Republican Party has a lot to gain, particularly with that path to citizenship issue. I think it's a winner for them.

And obviously, President Obama has made a huge step towards convincing the Latino population in two election cycles that he would try to get this done. So I think it has huge implications for the Democratic Party as well.

SIMON: Gabriel Sanchez, professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, and director of research for Latino Decisions. Thanks so much for being with us.

SANCHEZ: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

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