Politicians trying to woo Hispanic voters in 2012 with economic promises must first own up to failed federal and state immigration policies that have frustrated many, Hispanic leaders say. They say they have had it with the Democratic leadership and many Republicans too, unless they receive a solid message – or even Marco Rubio – as a sign of solidarity.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said employment is and will be a key issue for Hispanics in 2012.
"The unemployment rate in the Hispanic community is greater than [the unemployment rate in] the general population," stated Rodriguez.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that the unemployment rate among immigrant Hispanics rose to over 11 percent, up from 4.9 percent between 2007 and 2010. That is about four percent higher than the unemployment rates for foreign-born whites and Asians.
Hispanics have also experienced a 66 percent drop in personal wealth compared to a 53 percent wealth decline among African-Americans, also hit hard by the economic downturn.
While both parties are posed to debate economics and job creation during the 2012 races, Rodriguez says Hispanics' economic troubles are linked to immigration reform – an area he and others believe both parties have failed to adequately address.
Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, weighed in, saying, "There is a tremendous amount of frustration in the Latino community over immigration."
Both Lopez and Rodriguez say President Barack Obama has disappointed Hispanics by failing to keep his immigration promises.
"[We had] a Democratic president who had a Democratic majority for his first two years who promised, in his first 100 days, they would pass immigration reform. We're into the third year of his presidency and there is no immigration reform," said a frustrated Rodriguez.
Last winter, the president and Democrats attempted to pass the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act before Republicans assumed the majority in the U.S. House. The immigration proposal would have created a pathway to citizenship, through either college or the military, for undocumented youth.
The bill failed to pass the Senate.
Hispanics support a pathway for undocumented children, said Lopez. However, he noted that Democrats contributed to the bill’s failure by playing politics with the proposal.
"It's critical that Democrats stop loading up the DREAM Act with a lot unsavory provisions," he urged.
Provisions such as expanding the age of eligibility to 35 allowed for heightened criticism among the bill's opponents, Lopez explained.
Rodriguez also blames the president's failed leadership on immigration for frustrations among the states. However, he says Republicans are culpable for stringent state immigration policies.
"The Republican Party is failing miserably through these immigration extremist reforms," he lamented.
Last year, the Arizona legislature passed the controversial Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act. The bill requires state and local law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of any individual they "reasonably suspect" of being in the United States illegally.
The law raised fears among immigrant communities that they could be profiled and taken away from their family and friends at any time. The act was later blocked by the Obama administration.
In January, Georgia lawmakers introduced a bill similar to the Safe Neighborhoods Act that would also punish anyone who aided illegal immigrants.
While the Georgia bill was passed, portions of the law have been struck down.
Rodriguez agrees there is a need to secure the borders and he said of the Arizona and Georgia bill, "They are extremist reforms because it's not just about securing the border protection; it incorporates elements of racial profiling."
Both Democrats and Republicans receive an "F" grade from Hispanics going into the election, said Rodriguez. So where do they go?
Rodriguez said there is still hope for Republicans.
"In the words of Reagan in 1986, 'The Hispanic-American community is a natural, traditionalist, conservative community.'"
The Hispanic-American community is 95 percent Christian – either Catholic or evangelical – and is very concerned about the attacks against religious liberties, abortion and traditional marriage, Rodriguez noted.
Although Rodriguez views Hispanics as "natural allies" with the Republican Party, he asserts the RNC has not engaged Hispanics on immigration and other issues directly affecting their community.
Republican groups launched Spanish language ads attacking President Obama on the economy and unemployment in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Texas. The DNC has also launched Spanish language campaign ads in similar markets.
Still, Rodriguez declared, "I don't think that either party really realizes that the political future of this nation, at least in the 21st century, is in the hands of these 50 million Hispanic-Americans."
He said Republicans must send Hispanics a stronger signal that they want Hispanic support. One example of such a signal would be a public appeal, an apology, or better yet, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as the vice presidential nominee on the 2012 ticket.
"If they could put Marco Rubio on that ticket as the VP candidate, it wouldn't take away the angst or the anger, it wouldn't squelch Alabama, Georgia and Arizona, but it would convey a message and that message is very powerful."
Rubio, a Christian and Tea Party Republican, roused substantial support from Hispanics in the 2010 mid-term elections.
Until both parties realize the importance of the Hispanic-American community's support, Rodriguez says neither party has the Hispanic vote in its pocket.