Immigration hardliners can retire one of their favorite talking points, for at least a little while.
Hispanic voters now consider immigration reform the top issue facing Congress and the president, according to a poll by Latino Decisions released this week.
Some 58 percent of Latino voters now view immigration reform as the most important issue before Congress and the White House, surpassing economy and jobs (38 percent), health care (19 percent) and education (15 percent).
The top two issues have flipped places since November.
The change, no doubt, comes from the possibility that the normally log-jammed U.S. Congress will take up a bipartisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, likely including a pathway to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants.
“Not only are Latino voters paying attention, but they expect Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform this year,” pollster Matt Baretto wrote in the statement announcing the results.
Conservative opponents of immigration reform played down the Latino community’s overwhelming support for immigration reform during Mitt Romney’s failed bid for the presidency last year, repeatedly pointing out immigration is not the most important issue on most Hispanics’ minds -- the economy and jobs normally place first in polls.
Such a characterization is not entirely inaccurate, though it is misleading.
While polls show most Latino voters don’t think fixing the broken immigration system is more important than having a job, the issue tends to be more personal for Hispanics given that 81 percent of undocumented immigrants are Latin American. After President Barack Obama walloped the GOP candidate among Hispanic voters 71 percent to 27 percent, many conservatives have begun to rethink their approach.
More than eight in 10 Latino voters support a pathway to citizenship, according to a poll released last year by Fox News Latino. Several polls show more than 90 percent of Latino voters support the DREAM Act, which narrowly failed to become law in December 2010.
There’s reason to believe that switching course on immigration may help the GOP boost its performance among Latinos voters. The Latino Decisions poll found that 43 percent of Hispanic voters surveyed who voted for Obama would be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate in the future if the GOP took a leading role in passing immigration reform.
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The U.S.-Mexico border is violent
It certainly is in some places, but those don't tend to be on the U.S. side. In fact, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/08/2-us-mexico-border-cities_n_2647897.html">El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California are the two safest cities in the country</a>, according to Congressional Quarterly. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/13/jan-brewer-border-enforcement_n_2677777.html">While Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has repeatedly said the border in her state is dangerous</a>, crime statistics reported by USA Today and The Huffington Post show that violent crime has dropped along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, as well as California, New Mexico and Texas.
The porous U.S.-Mexico border is vulnerable to terrorists
That’s not the assessment of the U.S. government. The Mexico section of the most recent <a href="http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/195768.pdf">State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism reads</a>: <blockquote>No known international terrorist organization had an operational presence in Mexico and no terrorist group targeted U.S. citizens in or from Mexican territory. There was no evidence of ties between Mexican criminal organizations and terrorist groups, nor that the criminal organizations had political or territorial control, aside from seeking to protect and expand the impunity with which they conduct their criminal activity.</blockquote> H/T: <a href="http://borderfactcheck.com/">Washington Office on Latin America</a>.
The border is insecure
Depends on how you define "secure." By practically all measurements, the border is at its most secure point in recent history. There's more than <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/may/10/barack-obama/obama-says-border-patrol-has-doubled-number-agents/">20,000 Border Patrol agents stationed along the border now</a> -- about double the number since 2004. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/border-funding-needed-immigration-apprehensions/story?id=18465102">Apprehensions along the border, one of the most reliable measures of illegal entry</a>, are at their lowest level in 40 years. But <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/23/what-does-a-secure-border_n_2749419.html?utm_hp_ref=world&ir=World">politicians have yet to agree on how to define what "secure" will mean</a> for legal purposes.
Obama has been soft on enforcement
Not so. In fact, it's one of the biggest gripes immigration activists have with him. While Obama has exempted many people who came to the United States as children from deportation, he has also set records, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/us/advocates-push-obama-to-halt-aggressive-deportation-efforts.html?_r=0">deporting over 400,000 people last fiscal year and removing more migrants</a> in one term than George W. Bush did in two.
The U.S. hasn't committed enough resources to securing the border
Again, depends on who you ask. The $18 billion the federal government spent on border enforcement in the 2012 fiscal year was more than it spent on than on other law enforcement agencies combined, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/immigration-enforcement-cost_n_2425647.html">according to the Migration Policy Institute</a> -- about 15 times more than it did in the mid-1980s. Is that enough, especially in a context in which illegal immigration stands at net zero? If, not, what is?
Illegal immigration continues to skyrocket
Nope. For all the talk from outraged politicians, you'd think that immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border remains at historically high levels. In fact, <a href="http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/">illegal immigration from Mexico has dropped to net zero or less</a>, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.