Obama and Romney to address immigration in TV debate?

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the presidency at the November 6th US presidential election, will contest the second presidential debate tonight (16th October 2012) in New York at Hofstra University. They will be questioned by the audience which will comprise undecided voters. It seems likely that there will be questions about immigration policy.

In the first debate between Obama and Romney and in the vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, questions about immigration have been conspicuous by their absence.

However, it seems likely that it will be addressed this time. Immigration is likely to be an important factor in several key marginal states. A recent poll, conducted early in October by the Pew Hispanic Center, showed that the percentage of Hispanic Americans who support the Democratic Party has risen from 45% in 2011 to 61% in October 2012. This follows the Republican's contest to select their presidential candidate when all candidates strove to outdo each other in talking tough on immigration.

The Pew poll also showed that immigration is an important issue to one third of Hispanic American registered voters because it affected them personally. Many Hispanic voters are more likely to support the Democrats because of President Obama's support for the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent residency to illegal US residents who were brought to the US as children provided that they fulfilled certain criteria;
• They have lived in the US for five years before applying for residency
• Have no criminal record
• Have completed High School and are either
o Serving in the military
o Attending college

President Obama has already introduced the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program by Presidential Order. This program allows people who would qualify for permanent residency under the DREAM Act to apply for a permit granting them immunity from deportation proceedings for two years. So far, 4,500 deferral permits have been issued under the DACA program.

Mr Romney has said that he will cancel the program if elected though, at the first debate, he said that he would honour the permits already purchased under the DACA program.

President Obama has said that he will do his best to make the DREAM Act law if he is re-elected whereas Mr Romney has said that, if Congress passes the DREAM Act while he is president, he will veto the Act and prevent it becoming law.

Mr Romney says that he supports reform of the immigration system to make it simpler so that prospective immigrants will find it clearer. He has also supported the controversial laws such as Senate Bill 1070 introduced in Arizona. This law brings in provisions which aim to make life as difficult as possible for illegal immigrants such as preventing them from working or renting property or attending state colleges. It is hoped that, they will then 'self-deport'.

12.9% of the US population; around 40m people, are immigrants from Latin America or Asia. While Hispanic US citizens are strongly behind the Democrats, with Asian Americans the picture is less clear-cut. The latest National Asian American Survey shows that 43% of Asian Americans support the Democrats while only 24% support the Republicans. However, it seems that, for Asian Americans, immigration is not an issue that will influence their decisions to vote. For Asian Americans, as for many Hispanics and Americans as a whole, the economy is the main issue along with education, jobs and healthcare.

Hitherto, the Democrats have been, broadly speaking, in favour of immigration reform and the Republicans have been opposed. However, there are some signs of change. At a conference held in Indianapolis on 12th October 2012, representatives from churches, law enforcement and business met to discuss immigration. They were, on the whole, right-wing. The keynote speech was given by Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist has been described by national current affairs show 60 minutes as having 'been responsible, more than anyone else, for rewriting the dogma of the Republican Party'.

Mr Norquist told the First Midwest Summit on Immigration, 'Immigration is the most important thing to focus on if you're concerned about America as an economic power. Not only is it good policy to have dramatically more immigrants in the US than we do today and a path towards citizenship] for those who are here, it is also good politics. In fact, restrictionist policies are bad electoral policies.'

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