WASHINGTON - Fifty-nine percent of Hispanics oppose President Barack Obama's increased deportations of illegal immigrants, according to a new poll showing a weak spot in their otherwise broad support for the president in next year's election.
The survey by the Pew Hispanic Center released on Wednesday showed that just 27 percent of those polled approved of the administration's deportation policy, which immigrants' advocates have criticized as unnecessarily harsh.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported nearly 400,000 people during the fiscal year that ended in September, the largest number of removals in the agency's history. Government officials say they are targeting immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center and author of the report, said that even though Hispanics reject Obama's deportation policy by a two-to-one ratio, they still support the president generally and show an affinity for his Democratic Party.
Latinos were among Obama's strongest supporters in 2008, but many have become disillusioned by the lack of employment opportunities and lack of progress on immigration reform.
The survey showed 49 percent of Hispanics approve of the job Obama is doing, down from 58 percent in 2010 but still higher than his 46 percent approval rating among the general population.
When asked which political party shows greater concern for Hispanics, 45 percent of respondents chose Democrats and 12 percent said Republicans.
Employment, education and medical care are the issues that Hispanics registered to vote in next November's presidential contest care the most about, the survey found.
Latinos have been disproportionately affected by the U.S. economy's downturn, with unemployment for the group running at 11 percent and many losing their homes. The country's average jobless rate is about 8.6 percent.
The support of Hispanic voters could prove a determining factor for Obama as he seeks re-election, especially in the critical states of Virginia, Nevada, Florida and North Carolina.
The survey was conducted between Nov. 3 and Dec. 7 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia with 1,220 adult Hispanics, 557 of whom are registered to vote.
Polling was conducted both in English and Spanish by landline and mobile telephones. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for all Hispanics surveyed and 5.2 percentage points for Hispanics registered to vote.