Many Hispanics in Baltimore, the District and Prince George’s County are expected to support President Obama in the November election, holding out hope, like many African Americans, that a second term would allow him to follow up on promises he made that captured their support in 2008, local leaders said.
“We think he felt some frustration with Congress so people are saying, ‘Let’s hold on and see what he can do with the next term,’” said Elizabeth Alex, lead organizer in central Maryland for CASA de Maryland and director of voter engagement for CASA in Action.
Blacks and Hispanics turned out in record numbers to vote in the 2008 election to seal the victory for Obama. But stumbling blocks such as immigration issues, unemployment, decreasing the military and taxes are fueling anti-Obama sentiment among conservatives and giving presumptive Republican challenger Mitt Romney enough attention to make an Obama reelection an uphill battle.
“President Obama hasn’t done anything for the Hispanic community,” said Linda Hernandez, chair of the Maryland GOP Hispanic Committee. “He could’ve done things the first two years he was in office when he had both the Senate and House, but he didn’t.”
Hernandez said Obama is “pulling the wool over some people’s eyes.” She said much of his support is coming from “those Hispanics and Blacks who are not well-educated. ..They only know what they hear in the media and the media is not telling the whole truth. The people who are educated and informed can see through his double-talk.”
But Veronica Cool, a banker and chairwoman of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said many Hispanics believe Romney is out of touch. “Romney’s not going to get the Latino vote because he doesn’t understand my people, my culture, my community.” Cool stressed that her opinions were strictly personal and not representative of the nonpartisan Chamber.
Alex said Hispanics are watching Obama closely.
“When he ran for office, he made strong statements, especially on immigration reform, and it didn’t happen,” Alex continued. “He said first health care, then immigration. Then we saw what happened to health care.”
Hernandez questioned how tax dollars from the federal level are benefiting Baltimore and other communities with high poverty. “The unemployment rate in the Black community is atrocious,” she said, “and the [Obama administration] is doing nothing to help these poor people. They’re not providing financing for schools and community colleges, mentoring programs, or in any way encouraging those that live in poor communities…He’s spent $15 trillion. Where did it go?”
Cool said many Hispanics believe Obama inherited some difficulties that tied his hands on some of his proposed reforms. “There’s no way that Obama is fully responsible for the economy,” she said. “He inherited a huge deficit.”
CASA of Maryland is the largest Latino and immigrant organization in the state of Maryland. CASA provides services to Hispanics throughout the state, with offices in Baltimore city, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, areas where the largest concentrations of Hispanics reside. CASA in Action is the nonprofit’s organization under Section 501c(4) of the Internal Revenue Code that allows the group to do voter registration and political advocacy.
CASA in Action will have an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort on behalf of President Obama in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, which share 70 percent of Maryland’s Hispanic population, according to Kim Propeack, director of CASA in Action.
With 1,500 members in Baltimore, the group is comprised mostly of families, Alex said. Members represent mostly first-generation immigrants and naturalized citizens.
This fits in with the overall picture of the Latino community, which can be separated into three groups, especially when looking at who will vote, according to Cool. The first group is first-generation Hispanics. “They will automatically vote for Obama,” Cool concedes, “because they feel he’s more like us.” This group, she said, also supports him because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling which will give more people healthcare coverage, as well as his efforts on immigration reform.
The second group is second-generation Latino Americans, “who are more educated and more Americanized but still feel ties to Obama,” Cool said.
The third group is business owners and leaders like Cool. “The Hispanic community has a $1.5 trillion [in national] purchasing power. We would like President Obama to take us seriously and work with us.He could win the race if he talked to us.”
Alex admits that some Hispanics who supported Obama in the last election were skeptical about his commitment to the Hispanic community until recently.
“A year ago, we were doing local campaigning for [Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] and Hispanic voters we were running into who said they wouldn’t vote for Obama again,” Alex said.
But that all changed in June when President Obama announced a deferred action policy for a specific group of young immigrants to be protected from deportation and be given an opportunity to receive work permits, Alex said. This policy is similar to the Maryland DREAM Act, which gives a path to citizenship to young adults who were brought to this country illegally as children and now want to work and attend college but cannot because they don’t have proper documentation.
“The Latino community saw it as a down payment and a first step to further action after the election to help those young people become U.S. citizens,” she said.
Hernandez, however, saw the move as an election-year strategy. “He’s pandering for votes,” she said. “I don’t know who he’s trying to impress, but I’m not impressed. There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to come to the United States. We welcome those who come here legally. The laws are in the books for a reason.”
While Alex feels that the president’s recent efforts are a step in the right direction, “the engine of deportation keeps chugging along.” According to CASA in Action, more illegal immigrants, particularly undocumented youth, have been deported during the Obama administration than in any other president’s four-year term.
“That’s huge,” Alex said.
As a result, the largest group of new voter registrations among Hispanics is among 18- to 24-year-old adults who are motivated to vote for this election, Alex said. They’re seeing friends, family members and classmates who are facing deportation or are fighting to stay in this country where they were raised. “They know their friends are depending on their vote,” said Alex.
In 2010, the last election where figures are available, there were nearly 100,000 Latinos registered as Democrats in Maryland, according to the state Democratic Party’s Latino Leadership Council. MDGOP, the state’s Republican Party, does not have a tally of Hispanics in the state’s party, said Philip Bell, director of membership services for MDGOP.
“As the founder of Maryland Latinos for Obama in 2008, we watched in horror as support for the President eroded in the face of the family separation driven by the highest number of deportations in history,” said Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action. “President Obama’s announcement of relief for DREAM Act students and continuing commitment to comprehensive immigration reform has completely revived Latino excitement about the President and my community and I are looking forward to delivering in November.”
CASA in Action’s youth committee has been getting out the vote early, visiting college campuses and ethnic festivals throughout the state, and a series of back to school events are planned at area high schools and colleges in early fall. Both focus on voter registration and voter education, particularly on the Maryland Dream Act.
Their message to the President: “Get immigration reform done, already,” said Cool.