As Americans vote today, a record 23 million Latinos can head to the polls. Here is a roundup of the candidates’ stated views on immigration, regional security, and trade with Latin America—issues that are often of direct interest for this growing voter bloc, but also will more generally affect all Americans over the next four years.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama diverge most on immigration. For the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, Romney has indicated that he would not accept a reform that included provisions offering illegal immigrants “amnesty.” And he has also advocated for self-deportation (i.e., making conditions hard enough that people will leave).
Though the Obama administration has carried out a record number of deportations, it has also distinguished between those here without papers, and even implemented a policy directive aimed at halting deportations of undocumented youths. Obama supports the Dream Act, which would provide a legislated road toward legalization for young people who fulfill a series of conditions. Romney originally said that if elected he would continue Obama’s directive, but an aide later stated that a Romney administration would in fact replace it, while honoring any visas that had already been issued. For legal immigration the candidates’ views are not so different, and both have advocated streamlining immigration for high-skilled immigrants.
On security both praise the Mexican and Colombian governments for their commitment to fighting drug trafficking organizations and disrupting the flow of drugs coming north, and promise to continue financial and training support. But they differ on the threat posed by antagonistic regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. Romney has asserted that Hugo Chávez has created “a destabilizing, anti-democratic, and anti-American ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ across Latin America,” and his campaign website states that Fidel Castro will be remembered among the “most reviled despots, tyrants, and frauds.” In contrast, Hugo Chávez, in Obama’s view, has not constituted a national security concern. And Obama has offered travel reforms and other changes alongside pressure toward the Castro government.
On trade both candidates call for expanding ties with their southern neighbors. Mitt Romney’s website states that in his first one hundred days in office he would launch the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (CEOLA), which would “extol the virtues of democracy and free trade and contrast them with the ills of the model offered by Cuba and Venezuela.” Analysts question the viability of this plan, and in particular Brazil’s interest. Obama has touted signing free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, and the possibilities of the Transpacific Partnership, now under negotiation between eleven countries, including Chile, Mexico, Peru, Canada, and the United States in the Western Hemisphere.
Most notable to Latin American observers is the relative inattention paid to the region during this election cycle. As I have argued before, this may not matter to the increasingly important Latino vote, which cares as much or more strongly about domestic issues. But whatever the campaign rhetoric, the next president will need a thoughtful policy toward an increasingly diverse region.
For more information on the election and the role of Latino voters, the Americas Society / Council of the Americas provides an excellent list of resources. Happy voting!
Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations