- (Photo: Reuters/Rick Scuteri)
The Hispanic community is publicly expressing its anger over President Obama’s inability to get Congress to pass the DREAM Act. America's largest minority also complains of increased discrimination and job loss.
Political experts estimate there are about 2 million people that may be eligible to apply for legal status under the DREAM Act if approved. They also say the controversial bill, coupled with increased job loss and discriminatory practices in the workforce, is causing Obama to lose a large percentage of the Hispanic voting population in the U.S.
The act provides legal residency and the eventual chance for citizenship for illegal immigrants brought into the United States as children. Those immigrants, under the proposed law, could become citizens if they maintain a clean criminal record, graduate from high school and plan on attending college or joining the military.
Voting records show that Obama carried 67 percent of the Latino vote in the 2008 general election. He captured especially high numbers in Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and his home state of Illinois, according to the Pew Research Center.
Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois says the DREAM Act is an immigration issue and would not have a better chance under a Republican president. He said he wants Obama to be re-elected, but the mood is changing among Latinos.
"People want to be for him," said Gutierrez. "They really want to be for him. But he's really going to have to give them a reason."
"People think it's a little late. Now they're a bit more cynical when...he says, 'I want to bring Democrats and Republicans together,'" he continued.
According to a recent Gallup poll, Obama’s job approval number has fallen to 48 percent among Hispanics, the lowest since he moved into the Oval Office. In January, the president garnered 60 percent approval among Hispanics.
Meanwhile, Hispanics are holding more rallies, using social networks and forming advocate groups to demonstrate their frustration with Obama and their economic plight.
In August, Hispanic unemployment remained unchanged at 11.3 percent, as did the overall unemployment rate at 9.1 percent. For the year, the monthly Hispanic unemployment rate has averaged 11.6 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the nationwide unemployment rate averaged 9.0 percent per month.
Year-to-date, an average of 109,000 jobs per month have been added to the workforce, well below the number experts say is need to recover from the recession that ended in June 2009.
Political experts say the unique problem in the Hispanic community is the Latino population, already at more than 50 million, continues to grow.
Hispanics lag behind other workers because unemployment rates are closely tied to education levels. Research shows that Hispanics are significantly less likely to have college diplomas than African Americans or Caucasians.
The Obama administration says it wants Hispanics to find decent jobs. Toward that end, the Labor Department seeks to enroll more Latinos in government-sponsored job training programs targeting the energy industry. The administration also aims to encourage more Hispanics to pursue careers in engineering, technology and science.
Therein lies the problem, experts say. Though the DREAM Act encourages education, it cannot seem to gain enough momentum to win passage on Capitol Hill.
Hispanic organizations criticize Obama's record, saying both he and the politically-divided Congress have “overpromised and under-delivered” on immigration and economic issues of concern to Latino voters.
Nevertheless, the president continues to press for the DREAM Act. In a recent speech, he said, "We need comprehensive immigration reform, part of which would allow entrepreneurs and high-skilled individuals to stay here, because we want to be attracting that talent here."
Experts say the president's emphasis on preventing the flight of highly-skilled workers was probably related to the administration’s decision three weeks ago to adopt a new deportation policy.
However, critics charge that the administration's real motivation for suspending deportation of selected illegal immigrants - those posing no threat to national security - was to garner Hispanic votes.
Latinos say the new deportation policy falls short of what is needed and does not substitute for passage of the DREAM Act into law.
"We came out in record numbers when we voted for Obama on a promise that he has broken," said Emma Lozano, executive director of the Chicago-based Centro Sin Fronteras. "And now he has to shore up, otherwise he won't get a second term. So we're going to lock up our votes until he does."