Romney or Obama - Who Would Deport More?

PHOTO: Arizona

This week, Univision hosted two "meet the candidate" events in Miami with President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Both candidates have been on the hot seat lately: Romney with his scorn for the 47 percent; Obama for Libya and the Fast and Furious scandal in the Justice Department.

But in Miami, some of the toughest questions focused on immigration issues, from deportations to Arizona's "papers, please" law, SB 1070. Polling consistently shows that the economy and jobs are top concerns for Hispanics, but immigration is often cited as a gateway issue, meaning that the wrong language or policies can alienate potential voters.

As Florida Congressman Marco Rubio told PBS NewsHour in August: "It's a gateway issue because in the Hispanic community, immigration is not a statistical issue. It's not a theory...You know someone, you love someone, you work with someone that is being impacted by an immigration problem."

At a glance, it might seem obvious who would be more appealing to a pro-migrant voter when it comes to immigration policy: Obama opposes SB 1070, Romney has mixed feeling about it; Obama supports the DREAM Act, Romney supports Florida Senator Marco Rubio's scaled-back version of the bill. Obama halted deportations for qualifying young undocumented immigrants this June; Romney said in January that immigrants should "self-deport."

But some immigrant rights activists are skeptical of both candidates, says Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the communications director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

"I think that in order for deportations to stop and to end the suffering of the community, whoever gets to the White House will need to work very, very closely with Congress, because at this time it seems that neither candidate is willing to maintain the idea that deportations are not that answer to the broken immigration system," Cabrera said. "Mr. Obama has become the deporter-in-chief and Mr. Romney does not negate the fact that he'll continue to do the same thing."

On Wednesday, Univision news anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas -- both famously tenacious when it comes to questioning politicians on immigration policy -- held the feet of both candidates to the fire on a range of issues. Not the least of those was deportations.

Obama, who has broken records for the number of deportations during his first term, tried to portray his administration as deporting bad guys and recent arrivals, not law-abiding residents and parents. "We have to focus our attention, our enforcement on people who genuinely pose a threat to our communities, not to hard-working families who are minding their own business," he said. "We don't have the capacity to enforce across the board."

However, what the administration defines as a criminal deportation includes relatively minor infractions, as well as more serious crimes. The top three categories for removals in 2011, according to a report released this month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, were "dangerous drugs," "criminal traffic offenses," and "immigration." Those three categories make up a whopping 66 percent of deportations and voluntary departures.

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