LATINO VOICES

Immigration Reform Is Latinos' Top Issue Before Congress, Poll Says

Mexican and Latino janitors hold a candlelight vigil calling for federal immigration reform, in response to the tough new Ari
Mexican and Latino janitors hold a candlelight vigil calling for federal immigration reform, in response to the tough new Arizona law giving the police new stop and search powers, outside their place of work in Los Angeles on May 20, 2010. Mexican President Felipe Calderon urged the US government to repair an outmoded immigration system and do more to ensure that illegal guns do not flow across the countries' shared border. The Mexican leader renewed his call for an overhaul of US immigration laws that would offer up to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, many of them Mexicans, a path to US citizenship as well as strongly criticizing a new Arizona law that has enraged Hispanics and stoked fears of racial profiling. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Immigration hardliners can retire one of their favorite talking points, for at least a little while.

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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