Obama owes victory to Hispanics and must reform US immigration

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The US presidential election is over and President Barack Obama will serve a second term as president of the United States. Exit polls show that he owes that victory in the popular vote to Latino voters. Latino pressure groups are demanding that the President keeps his promise to reform US immigration law in the first year of his second term.

Exit polls show that 11% of voters at the election described themselves as ''Hispanics', that is to say they are Hispanic Americans from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Central and South America. The great majority are of Mexican descent. The exit poll showed that 71% of Hispanics voted for Mr Obama whereas only 27% voted for the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney.

Gary Segura, a pollster for pressure group Latino Decisions, has calculated that the exit polls may have underestimated Mr Obama's support among Hispanic voters. He believes that the Hispanic vote alone gave Mr Obama a 2.3% advantage in the national vote.

With 118m votes counted, on 8th November 2012, Mr Obama had 50.3% of the popular vote and Mr Romney had 48.1%. It is clear that the support of Hispanics was a major factor in Mr Obama's re-election.

The figures show that the Republicans' share of the Hispanic vote has fallen. George W Bush gained more than 35% of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and 2004. If Mr Romney had taken the same share on November 6th 2012, he would have taken a greater share of the national vote than President Obama.

The collapse in Hispanic support for the Republicans was caused, experts believe, by Mr Romney's decision to campaign on a promise to treat illegal immigrants, most of whom are from Mexico, more harshly. Mr Romney promised to take action to encourage illegal immigrants to 'self-deport'. He backed legislation such as Senate Bill 1070, introduced by Republicans in Arizona, which requires state police to ask anyone they suspect may be an illegal alien to show their papers to prove their entitlement to be in the US.

Mr Obama recognised this fact before the election. He told journalists in October 'Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win [it] is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.'

Before he was elected in 2008, Mr Obama promised to introduce legislation that would reform the US immigration system. He failed to do so. He made a similar promise during the recent presidential campaign. Latino pressure groups are calling on the President to keep his promise on this occasion.

Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union said 'we expect leadership on comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.' Ben Monterroso of Mi Familia Vota, an organisation that works to persuade Hispanic citizens to cast their votes said 'Obama is going to return to the White House more energised to take these issues seriously'.

Hispanic voters will expect President Obama to do all he can to reform the US immigration system. In particular, they will expect him to find a way to pass the DREAM Act.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act was first introduced to Congress in 2001 but has never become law. When first introduced, it had support from Democrats and Republicans but, recently, no Republican Congressmen support it.

If passed, the law would provide that certain illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children would be granted permanent residency. To qualify illegal residents would have to
• Be of good character
• Have lived in the US for at least five years and
• Have completed two years in the military or two years of a four year higher education course.
They would then be granted residency for six years. They might then qualify for permanent residency providing they completed their university course or receive an honourable discharge from the armed forces.

The president has promised to act and Latino voters will expect the Democratic Party to deliver. However, the US election has left Mr Romney's Republican Party in control of the second chamber of the US Congress, The House of Representatives. As legislation, requires a vote in both houses, as well as the President's signature, to become law, Mr Obama may find it difficult to deliver on his promise.

Before the election, Republicans and Democrats said that they wanted a more consensual style of politics in Washington. However, during Mr Obama's first term as president, there was little consensus. Republicans voted against most Democrat policies and the Democrats failed to co-operate with Republicans. There is little to suggest that this will change.

However, the election result also leaves the Republican Party facing serious questions about its future. The Republican Party is increasingly seen as the party of ageing white men. As the demographic nature of the USA changes, pollsters believe that, unless the party reaches out to encourage more diversity among its membership, it will find it increasingly difficult to win elections.

Interviewed in The Huffington Post days before the election, former Mexican President Vicente Fox said that he suspected that Republicans must believe that they could win the election without the Hispanic vote. In previous elections, while Hispanic voters have told pollsters they support the Democrats, they have failed to vote as heavily as the general population.

Republicans have won only two of the last six elections. As more Hispanic Americans get the vote, the chances that Republicans will win another election seem more remote to many, even some inside the Republican Party. Ana Navarro, a Republican political strategist from Florida, (and a Hispanic American) said 'Our party needs to realise that it's too old and too white and too male and it needs to figure out how to catch up with the demographics of the country before it's too late.'

It may be that the Republicans co-operate on DREAM legislation in order to reach out to Hispanics and revive their own electoral prospects.

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