LAS VEGAS - Elizabeth Alvisar is exactly the sort of voter Mitt Romney needs.
A victim of the brutal economy in a swing state, the 30-year-old tax preparer has been out of work for months. She's a foe of abortion and gay marriage, and was naturally drawn to the Republican ticket.
But Alvisar has switched her support to President Barack Obama because of his support for legislation known as the DREAM Act.
While Democrats failed to get the bill through Congress, Obama in June announced a change in policy to implement its key provision-allowing young people brought illegally into the country as children to avoid deportation.
"I have a lot of friends who've taken advantage of that opportunity," Alvisar said.
In the heavily Hispanic neighborhood where Alvisar lives, unemployment is high and home values are down. But Obama's immigration stance, and especially his executive order, has locked in support.
Obama's campaign is counting on Hispanics providing the margin of victory in swing states such as Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina.
"They know that he's on the right side of the immigration issue and wants to work with Congress for comprehensive immigration reform," deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said.
The importance of Hispanics as a voting bloc and immigration as an election-year issue was brought home during the second presidential debate. Obama reminded viewers that Romney, who went hard to the right on the issue during the GOP primaries, had argued for "self-deportation" to solve the illegal immigration problem. The Republican challenger noted that Obama had promised to pass an immigration overhaul and had failed.
The Romney campaign says Hispanics, enduring a 9.9 percent jobless rate,higher than the national average, are a natural draw for the GOP ticket. "Hispanics are hurting almost more than any other demographic group under the Obama economy," Romney's Spanish-speaking son Craig, a frequent surrogate in the Hispanic community, said in a brief interview.
But even some Romney supporters are pessimistic that Republicans can make inroads with a population that, many polls show, favors Obama by a 2-to-1 margin.
"It's going to take several years because we haven't engaged this community at all," said Joel Garcia, a conservative who formed a coalition to recruit Hispanics. "You've got a lot of Hispanics who are conservative in how they live their lives and their values, but there's this hook in their mouth pulling them left called immigration."
Much like any other group, Hispanics often list the economy, jobs and education as top issues in polls. But the acrimonious immigration debate of the past decade has given that issue extra weight for them. "What started as a war on illegal immigration is now being perceived as a war on Latinos," said Matt Barreto, who polls Hispanics for the company Latino Decisions.