RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
For President Obama, it's not just his potential opponent in 2012 he'll have to contend with. He's facing declining support among Latino voters - down to 48 percent in the most recent Gallup poll.
NPR's Brian Naylor has this look at what's behind that number.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: President Obama came into office with strong Latino support, having won two-thirds of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. But for some, that support has turned to disillusionment.
SARAHI URIBE: There's a deep sense of betrayal and disappointment towards the Obama administration.
NAYLOR: That's Sarahi Uribe, coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She singles out a program called Secure Communities, in which local police check the immigration status of those they arrest on other violations. The administration says that's led to some 195,000 criminals being deported this past year - about half of all deportations. Uribe says many of those caught are for traffic violations and minor offenses.
URIBE: And here the president ran on a platform of immigration reform, but what we've seen is that he's actually leaving behind a legacy of deportation and criminalization.
NAYLOR: Latino leaders say the administration has been too aggressively deporting immigrants here illegally, some 400,000 a year have been sent home, more than the Bush administration ever deported in a single year. In the meantime, the leaders say, the administration hasn't done enough to push issues important to them, such as comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act. That would allow the children of illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition for college and a path to citizenship.
Neither reform nor the DREAM Act got through Congress. In a recent roundtable with Latino journalists, the president said he couldn't pass those measures on his own. And he insisted the administration is being selective in those it deports.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we can do is to prioritize enforcement, since there are limited enforcement resources, and say we're not going to go chasing after this young man or anybody else who's been acting responsibly and would otherwise qualify for legal status if the DREAM Act passed.
NAYLOR: And the administration is taking other steps that may well help it win back support of Latino voters. It's aggressively challenging tough immigration laws passed in Arizona and Alabama, and it's considering suing to overturn immigration laws passed in Utah, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina. Still, political science Professor Gabriel Sanchez at the University of New Mexico is skeptical these steps will help the president all that much with Latino voters.
GABRIEL SANCHEZ: About a quarter of Latino voters know somebody personally who has been deported over the last several years. That is very difficult to overcome with a change in policy this late in the game.
NAYLOR: But political analyst Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a visiting scholar at the University of Texas, says immigration isn't the only important issue to Hispanic voters.
VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Immigration is an issue of concern to Latinos, but that doesn't mean that we also don't also care about issues such as the economy and education, and actually those are issues that really affect the bulk of Latinos in a more day-to-day fashion than does immigration.
NAYLOR: And in those areas, DeFrancesco Soto say the administration can point to issues like the president's proposal for a national infrastructure bank, which would mean more construction jobs that might be filled by Latinos. The Republicans running for president, with the exception of Texas Governor Rick Perry, are taking a hard line on immigration issues. So the real worry for the president isn't Latinos voting for Republicans so much as it is that they won't vote at all. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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