Immigration has emerged as perhaps the key issue in the contest to win the Republican presidential nomination. Ever since Governor Rick Perry offered a ham-handed defense of his decision to approve in-state tuition to illegal aliens in Texas – accusing his critics of being heartless – his polling numbers have been in free-fall. Yet, in spite of evidence that eliminating non-essential benefits to illegal aliens is supported by a broad swath of the electorate (beyond the GOP base), some political strategists continue to cling to the fallacy that a firm position on immigration enforcement will alienate Hispanic voters in the general election.

For example, one strategist, advising another candidate, suggests that whoever faces President Obama in the 2012 election attack him for his failure to deliver amnesty for illegal aliens. Republicans “have a unique opportunity to capitalize on a broken promise to the Latino community, and instead of capitalizing on that, we are fighting over who is tougher and meaner and stricter when it comes to immigration. We’re completely missing the boat,” she asserts. (See story in Politico)

Leaving aside the dubious suggestion that enforcing laws which protect U.S. citizens is “mean,” President Obama’s real weakness among most Hispanic voters has nothing to do with immigration policy. Immigration consistently ranks fairly far down the list of concerns among Hispanic voters. Concerns about jobs and the economy eclipse all other issues among Hispanics, just as they do among nearly all voters.

The most important thing that President Obama has failed to deliver to Hispanics (and everyone else) are jobs and a healthy economy. While Americans as a whole suffer a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, 11.3 percent of Hispanics are out of work. The poverty rate among Hispanics in the U.S. is an alarming 25.3 percent, and 6.1 million Hispanic kids live in poverty.

Some sound, nonpartisan, advice to President Obama and whoever his opponent might be next year: If you want to impress Hispanic voters get them back to work at wages that lift them out of poverty or near poverty. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal would be to free-up the 7 million jobs now held by illegal aliens at depressed wages. The self-anointed Hispanic mouthpieces want amnesty; Hispanic voters want jobs and decent wages.