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“What’s happened over the last 10 years [since he sponsored the bills] is that a growing number of Americans and Floridians believe that our immigration laws are being taken advantage of ... and it’s become harder and harder to find the political space to create an accommodation for kids that are in this predicament,” Rubio said.
He said that to create the political space, he supports enforcing existing laws at the border and in the workplace and also supports ways of improving legal immigration, such as implementing “a guest worker program that functions.”
Based on recent polling, immigration activists believe the DREAM Act will be a good barometer with regard to how Hispanics will likely vote in the 2012 elections.
A Nov. 8 poll commissioned by Spanish-language media firm Univision found that about 58 percent of all voters support the DREAM Act, and 84 percent of Latino voters support the measure.
“The idea that people who were brought across the border as children and therefore are not legally responsible for the actions that led to them finding themselves here, the idea that they should not be punished but in fact should be provided a pathway [to citizenship] is wildly popular among the electorate,” said Gary Segura, a principal in Latino Decisions, which conducted the poll.
While other issues will also play into Latino thinking as they individually decide whom they will support for president, support for the DREAM Act appears to be growing, especially as supporters, such as DREAM Big Vegas, continue to raise awareness of the bill.
Last year, a trio of undocumented Florida college students walked from Miami to Washington, D.C., to advocate for a pathway to citizenship. Last month, 18-year-old Joaquin Luna of Mission, Texas, committed suicide, leaving behind a note in which he blamed his undocumented status, which was a barrier to attaining his goal of becoming an engineer.
Some conservative strategists cast doubt on whether immigration would be a big issue in the 2012 presidential election.
Luke Frans, executive director of Resurgent Republic, a conservative policy organization, said that the issue of the economy and unemployment would trump immigration with Latino voters, but that immigration will still be a factor.
“The Hispanic electorate at large is going to be concerned about the economy and job creation, especially with what we have seen with Hispanic independents,” Frans said.
Immigration “can’t be ignored by conservatives, but when somebody doesn’t have a job, that is overwhelmingly going [to be] their top concerns [in the voting booth] and for some time,” Frans said.
Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications at the Heritage Foundation, said Democrats see the DREAM Act, and immigration generally, as part of a political gambit to win the Hispanic vote to offset the loss of blue-collar whites.
“What we will see over the next 12 months, sadly ... is a lot of cynical plays with Hispanic voters,” Gonzalez said.
Meanwhile, Rubio stressed that he spends no time thinking about how his positions would affect his electability at the national level.