Republican candidates treading dangerously on US immigration

- Posted in America by Visa Bureauon 16 March 2012

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum have both expressed relatively tough US immigration policies which commentators say aren't likely to endear them to Hispanic voters, the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country.

Mr Romney has voiced his support of Arizona's controversial immigration law, which is widely regarded as one of the toughest such laws in the country, second only to Alabama's, while Mr Santorum has suggested he would be prepared to split up families which contain illegal immigrants.

The Republican Party's policies are based on conservatism and have traditionally supported tough border security measures.

However, while these measures may foster support within the party's conservative base, many consider them too stringent to attract the millions of Hispanic votes which may prove crucial in several important states.

"Republicans have done a mystifying job of either ignoring or offending Hispanic voters," said former strategist to George W Bush Mark McKinnon. "The consequences for the general election are likely to be significant and perhaps determinative to the outcome."

Hispanics currently make up the US's largest ethnic minority and many have significant ties to Central and South America. As these locations are the main sources of illegal immigration, many Hispanic voters' decisions are likely to depend on the candidates' positions on border security, US visa application processes and deportation policies.

Current US President Barack Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 election but his failure to implement the promised immigration reform combined with record numbers of deportations had left many thinking the Hispanic vote could be up for grabs for Republican candidates.

Republicans have made some steps towards attracting Hispanic favour; the republican National committee hired a director of Hispanic outreach in January and Mitt Romney's campaign have utilised several Spanish advertisements in states with high numbers of Hispanic voters.

However, President Obama's re-election campaign has already recruited Spanish-speaking volunteers, introduced Spanish-language voter registration forms and published a Spanish-language website. The President's national campaign also 35 co-chairmen, seven of these are Hispanic.

It would appear as though President Obama's appeal to the Hispanic voters is secure yet many commentators have speculated that it is not President Obama that will prevent Hispanic voters from choosing the Republican Party, but rather the Republican Party itself.

As part of his campaign, Mr Romney, the firm favourite to receive the nomination, has criticised fellow-candidate Newt Gingrich's proposed policy of providing a path for some illegal immigrants and has previously said he would veto the DREAM Act, a law which would allow illegal immigrants to secure citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military, should he become president.

"It's going to be a difficult balancing act for the Republican nominee to be both hard line on immigration control but then reach out to Hispanic families," said chairman of the political science department at the University of Colorado, Kenneth Bickers.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA visa application.