Lupita Cabrera was excited when she heard President Obama announce June 15 that he would stop deporting young unauthorized immigrants like her, and she wasn't impressed by the immigration plan presented days later by Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.
"I think that (Romney's) just saying what he needs to say so that he can win the presidential campaign in November," said Cabrera, 20, a rising junior at Salem College in Winston-Salem. "He knows that getting the majority of the Latino vote is crucial to his win. ... I just don't like how he avoids the question of whether or not he'll reverse Obama's temporary solution and how he says he would enact more permanent solutions."
The immigration issue -- muted in the 2008 presidential race because Obama and his GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, championed similar views on immigration reform -- has moved back into the political discussion as the number of Hispanic voters in the U.S. and North Carolina continues to rise and the two likely opponents stake contrasting positions.
In North Carolina, about 91,000 Hispanics are registered to vote, up about 35 percent since 2008, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections. The number may seem small as a share of the state's overall registered voters -- nearly 6.3 million -- but it could prove substantial in the presidential election given that Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by about 14,000 votes.
Nationwide, Hispanics voted 67 percent in favor of Obama, according to exit polls.
Olma Echeverri, the chairwoman of the Hispanic American Democrats of North Carolina, said Obama's announcement on June 15 has energized Hispanic voters.
"I believe that it will consolidate the Hispanic vote in the president's favor. He showed a lot of courage, and now the Hispanic community will rally in his favor to make sure progress on the immigration front continues," she said.
Support for Obama among Hispanics had waned because of his handling of deportations. Under the Obama administration, deportations have risen to an annual average of nearly 400,000 since 2009, about 30 percent higher than the annual average set by President George W. Bush's administration in its second term and about double the annual average during Bush's first term, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
By a ratio of more than 2 to 1, Hispanics disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling deportations, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The administration's new immigration policy -- to grant deferred action to certain young unauthorized immigrants -- is based widely on the DREAM Act, federal legislation dealing with young immigrants first proposed about 10 years ago but that has languished ever since.
Among the highlights of the DREAM Act, younger immigrants would be given a pathway to legal residency status so long as they do not have a serious criminal record and are pursuing an education or military service. The bill passed the House in 2010, but the Senate killed discussion of it, with the help of Democratic votes, including one from Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
In a speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on Friday, Obama talked about deferred action and the DREAM Act.
"I've said time and again: Send me the DREAM Act. I will sign it right away. And I'm still willing to work with anyone from either party who is committed to real reform. But in the meantime, the question we should consider is this: Was providing these young people with the opportunity for a temporary measure of relief the right thing to do? I think it was. It's long past time that we gave them a sense of hope," Obama said.
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