President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy deferring deportation to certain young undocumented immigrants has substantially boosted his support among that group, but the president was still receiving mixed support among Iowa Latinos during interviews with residents across the state Wednesday.

“The immigration issue is something that nobody wants to touch except to make a few little gestures before election time to gain a vote,” said Fernando Ramos, a Latino pastor from Davenport.

Nevertheless, the policy enjoys wide support and gives him a boost in national polls among immigrants. Obama announced an executive order last week that would relieve the threat of deportation for young immigrants if they meet certain requirements.

Mitt Romney in Davenport, Iowa this past Monday. Photo by Guannan Huang.
Mitt Romney in Davenport, Iowa this past Monday. Photo by Guannan Huang.

In sharp contrast, his Republican opponent, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, took a strong line against undocumented immigrants during the Republican primary, saying that if he is elected president he would veto the DREAM Act, legislation that Obama modeled his executive order after and would give immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

But Romney has stopped short of saying he would repeal Obama’s order if elected, and he may improve his standing among immigrants tomorrow (Thursday) when he speaks to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando. He told IowaWatch Monday during a Davenport appearance that he is working on his own policy, and he may use the association event as the place to unveil it.

Meanwhile, in five critical swing states, Obama garnered a burst of support among undocumented immigrants because of his new policy, according to a poll by Latino Decisions and American Voices. Forty-nine percent of Latino voters – a gain of 35 percent over a similar poll early this year – said it would make them more enthusiastic about Obama, compared to 14 percent who were less enthusiastic, a net enthusiasm advantage of +35 points.

“I have decided to vote for Obama because of this announcement,” said David Benitez, 22, a Latino student at the University of Iowa. Being born in the U.S., Benitez is an American citizen, but he said he has friends who struggled with documentation.

Rey Lopez, 24, a Latino immigrant working in Des Moines, said he felt thrilled when he heard the new policy. Lopez, originally from Mexico, came to the United States when he was three. He graduated from Urbandale High School in Iowa. Since then he worked different part-time jobs, like snow plowing, to making a living.

“I see great opportunity and better life from this policy,” said Lopez, who works hard to ease the financial burden on his parents.

As it stands, President Obama’s new policy would help undocumented immigrants stay in the U.S. for up to two years, at which time they would be eligible to seek a renewal.

In an IowaWatch story from last October, experts said Latino voters are more likely to vote based upon policy positions instead of party affiliation. With an increasing number of Latino voters in the country, their ballot could have a major influence on the result of campaign.

And the polls are showing increased popularity for President Obama, presumably because of his new immigration policy. According to a Bloomberg poll released yesterday, 64 percent of likely voters surveyed said they agree with the policy, while 30 percent disagreed.

Quick Facts of New Policy:
People may apply for deferred deportation if they –

• came to the U.S. under the age of 16;
• are under age 31;
• have resided in the U.S. for five consecutive years as of June 15, 2012;
• are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces;
• have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors; and
• do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Romney has repeatedly refused to say whether he would repeal Obama’s executive order if he is elected. He has said he would support some sort of legal status only for undocumented immigrants who served in the military. All others would face deportation.

Although Obama’s position is much less restrictive than Romney’s, he still faces suspicion among some Latinos in Iowa, primarily because his administration has deported more undocumented workers than the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush.

Ramos, the Latino pastor from Davenport, said he is disappointed with who he has to choose from in the 2012 election. He leads a congregation of twenty-five Spanish-speaking members at the Casa de Oracion Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa.

Ramos said that Obama’s order may have an affect in the polls, but that he senses a general aura of dissatisfaction within the Iowa Latino community because of promises he says have not been kept.

When running for president in 2008, then-Senator Obama said he would try to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office. It never happened.

The president later supported the DREAM Act and worked the phones lobbying legislators to pass it. But supporters could not win the required 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster. As result, it failed in the Senate with a vote of 55-41 in 2010.

Fast Facts on Obama’s immigration plan, 2008 :

• Improve the immigration system – fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill;
• Bring people out of the shadows – allow undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens;
• Work with Mexico – do more to promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.

Nevertheless, even with the recent visit of Romney to his town, Ramos says he doesn’t trust Romney.

“My honest opinion about Romney is that anybody who is that rich doesn’t really care for my people,” Ramos said.

David Vasquez, a Latino pastor at Luther College in Iowa, agreed that Obama’s new policy is a political move. He hopes legislators will eventually consider a broader age range to allow more immigrants to stay on U.S. soil.

Lori Chesser, an immigration lawyer and chair of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition, wants a more humane and rational immigration policy because immigrants are huge assets to the U.S. on many levels.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, immigrants are not the cause of unemployment in the United States. It says immigrants create jobs through purchasing power, and they are more likely to start their own business.

Manuel Galvez, editor of El Trueque, a Spanish newspaper in the Iowa City area, is worried that Latinos misunderstand the order’s limitations.

He said he spoke with a Latina woman in Iowa City whose excitement faded after he explained the order would only allow her child to stay in the U.S. legally for two years. She decided she did not want to put her daughter through the process. Under Obama’s executive order, she would be allowed to reapply for another two-year deferral of deportation.

“What’s going to happen in two years? We are going to have thousands of young people who are here illegally and have no rights to where they live or where they are working,” Galvez said. “I don’t feel this is going to help Obama, because many people see this is clearly an electoral issue. He obviously wants the Latino vote.”

Galvez is trying to find the right person in Iowa to help him translate the executive order into Spanish so he can publish it in his paper.

“I think right now both parties are using Latinos for the same thing,” he said, noting Romney’s move to include U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and the governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, in his campaign to win Latino votes.

Manuel Galvez

“Rubio is very conservative and not very engaged with the Latino community,” Galvez said. “Specifically with immigration, I don’t think he represents the majority of Latinos.”

Galvez doesn’t feel either candidate would be good for Latinos, underlining the fact that besides his executive order, Obama has deported so many Latinos, The Obama administration deported over one million immigrants so far, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics.

In responding to the immigration issue,Romney insisted on his “self-deportation” idea during debates.

Experts said Obama’s new immigration policy left his opponent in a tough spot.

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