GOP's anti-immigration tone alienating Hispanics

By Jeri Clausing

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 11:07 p.m. MST

Mindful of the challenges, the Republican National Committee unveiled expanded efforts to woo Hispanics last week.

Party Chairman Reince Priebus said the national party had hired Bettina Inclan as director of Hispanic outreach and was implementing a "multifaceted approach to connect with the Hispanic community" that will include digital outreach, traditional voter identification and get-out-the-vote efforts. It is also putting teams on the ground in key states, he said, and will tap popular GOP Hispanics such as Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Yet, even as they announced boosted efforts, Priebus and Inclan downplayed the impact the immigration issue will have come November, emphasizing the unemployment rate among Hispanics is at 11 percent, almost two points higher than the national average.

"We need to address it," Inclan said. "We need to talk about it. But poll after poll shows the No. 1 issue for Latinos in this country is going to be how they are going to feed their family."

Democrats, meanwhile, are making the GOP's task harder. Obama's campaign is way ahead in its grass-roots outreach to Hispanics, thanks to the fact that he doesn't have a primary opponent. His re-election campaign has had teams long in place on the ground in states such as Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. And volunteers already are knocking on doors and conducting voter registration drives and weekly phone banks to shore up the Latino base.

But immigration is also a weak spot for Obama ahead of the November election. His campaign pledge to overhaul the immigration system remains unfulfilled — which he blames on lack of cooperation from Republicans in Congress — and he's been criticized for a record number of deportations last year — 400,000.

As Obama gears up for a re-election contest, his administration has modified some immigration regulations. The Department of Homeland Security announced in August would focus deportation efforts on criminal illegal immigrants. Earlier this month, the Obama administration proposed new rules to cut down on the time Americans are separated from their illegal immigrant spouses and children waiting outside the country for a visa to enter the U.S. About 75 percent of the hardship applications to waive the wait were filed by Mexicans, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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