SAN DIEGO -- The political parties don't know much about Latinos -- except perhaps how to insult them. And though counterintuitive, they do that frequently during election years.
Republicans are hoping that between now and November, Latino voters develop amnesia so that a respectable number -- at least 30 percent -- cast ballots for Mitt Romney.
A recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Telemundo poll finds that Romney has the support of 26 percent of Latino voters, compared to the 66 percent who favor President Obama.
To increase Romney's support, Republicans are doing their best to remind Latino audiences that Obama broke his promise to deliver comprehensive immigration reform. Of course, they also want Latinos to forget that Romney spent the 2012 Republican primary season -- and, come to think of it, the 2008 primary run as well -- attacking rivals in his own party by portraying them as soft on illegal immigration because they supported anything resembling comprehensive immigration reform, or as he put it, "amnesty."
What many Latinos find especially distasteful is that Romney also portrayed illegal immigrants as takers, moochers and spongers who will go anywhere for freebies. He should know better. There is certainly a cost to those who are in the country illegally -- on schools, hospitals, jails and social services. But these people also make a contribution -- by paying taxes, allowing businesses to prosper, stimulating the economy, and doing jobs that Americans won't do. Latinos understand the costs and benefits associated with illegal immigration better than do most Americans, because they're not as far removed from the immigrant population.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible Republican vice presidential candidate, made this point during his recent speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
"It is Hispanics who see the impact of illegal immigration up close and personal," Rubio said, "both the human element of it, but also its costs and the burdens that it places on our society in places where it's uncontrolled."
And Romney's clumsy handling of the issue is one reason Latinos don't consider him simpatico -- despite the fact that his father, George, was born in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Democrats also insult Latino voters. The Obama administration excels at it.
First, the president tries to fool Latinos into giving him credit for stopping the deportation of young illegal immigrants pursuing higher education or military service -- a group that he had earlier claimed his administration wasn't deporting in the first place.
Now, trying to get mileage out of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down most of the Arizona immigration law, Obama is out to fool them again. The Department of Homeland Security is making a big show of the fact that it is invalidating so-called 287(g) agreements with law enforcement agencies in the Grand Canyon state. Under those agreements, police and sheriff departments voluntarily partner with DHS to help enforce immigration law. According to CNN, in a conference call with reporters following the ruling, an administration official declared that the White House "will not allow Arizona's immigration priorities to become the Department of Homeland Security's priorities."
Really? Since when? Arizona's immigration priorities and the priorities of DHS have been in sync for the last three and a half years. DHS is trying to deport as many illegal immigrants as possible, and it racked up a record number of removals -- about 400,000 per year, more than 1.2 million since Obama took office. It accomplished this feat with the help of local law enforcement, which often apprehended the folks that wound up being deported.
It wasn't just through 287(g) either. In fact, DHS has been phasing out that program over the last few years and replacing it with Secure Communities. This program requires local cops to hand over to federal authorities the fingerprints of anyone arrested or detained to determine if they're in the country illegally. Because it's mandatory, it's like 287(g) on steroids.
Notice that the administration didn't do away with Secure Communities. This would have been the right thing to do. But when it comes to immigration policy, this administration has shown time and again that it doesn't care about doing the right thing. It only cares about convincing supporters it did the right thing -- while it actually did very little.
This election is shaping up as a lose-lose proposition for Latino voters. Both parties say we're important, and yet both seem to think we're idiots.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Esther Cepeda is on vacation; her column will return shortly.