President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the 15th Annual Human...

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the 15th Annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. (Oct. 1, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Many New York Latinos and recently naturalized citizens who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are disillusioned and might not show up for next year's presidential election, activists and lawmakers said last week.

Hope has turned into disenchantment, they said, as Congress stalls on immigration reform, states pass strict immigration laws and the Obama administration deports a record number of illegal immigrants.

"Politicians at the national and the state level have not done anything to inspire hope," said Chung-Wah Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition in Manhattan.

For new citizens who first voted in 2008, she said, "I'm worried their first experience voting might be a deep disillusionment with both parties."

Latinos join other key groups, such as environmentalists, in the Democratic base who say they are unhappy with Obama for not pursuing their agendas more aggressively.

Angela Kelley, an immigration expert at the Center for American Politics, a Washington think tank that provides research for Democrats, said for Latinos and immigrant advocacy groups the issue has a greater sense of urgency.

Many stayed home in 2010

"Others may feel high levels of frustration with Obama," Kelley said, "but here's what's different: They're not being deported, their families are not being torn apart."

The dissatisfaction may have shown up in last year's elections in New York, when far fewer Latinos and Asians voted than in 2008, according to U.S. census data released last week. Overall, turnout dropped by a quarter but sank almost one-third among Hispanics and plunged 60 percent for Asians.

"I don't see much enthusiasm right now in politics," Livio Rosario, a Hempstead Village board trustee, said of Hempstead's fast-growing Latino community. "I know they are not too happy with our president at this moment," he said. "But I don't see this as a Republican area, either."

The GOP has reached out to Latinos with an economic pitch. Noting Hispanic unemployment is above 11 percent, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus told Latinos that "Republicans are working hard to elect leaders that will ensure you can find work and that your businesses can thrive."

But Hong said many immigrants from Latin America and around the world who became citizens in recent years are wary of the GOP. Republicans, she noted, passed restrictive laws in Arizona and Alabama -- requiring, for example, noncitizens to carry papers. And she said the recent GOP debates turned into contests of "who can say the word 'illegal' more often."

Democrats express concern

Democrats, who won the White House with a surge of support from the young, women and minorities -- including two-thirds of the Hispanic vote -- said they are concerned about Latino disenchantment.

Last week, Obama met Latino journalists at the White House, Vice President Joe Biden hosted about 100 Hispanic leaders and the Democratic National Committee launched a TV ad in Spanish in Colorado and Nevada.

Obama, who put off his promised push for immigration reform to take up health care when Democrats controlled Congress, blamed Republicans for blocking a comprehensive immigration overhaul and said he can't make it happen on his own.

This week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee, will hold a hearing that will highlight problems with a controversial House GOP bill requiring verification of farmworker citizenship.

But Obama's biggest bid to win back Latinos was his August announcement of a new policy on the sore subject of deportations: Among the 300,000 people already in such proceedings, dangerous criminals will be the top priority for removal and family members and students will get a reprieve.

Latinos still have questions about the policy and a federal program to track local criminal arrests of noncitizens, Hong said.

"It is a positive step," she said. "But I'm not sure it's the kind of bold step that can restore people's faith in his ability to deliver."

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