Presidential Debate: In Round Two, Will Immigration and Latin America Come Up?

President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney are heading into their second face-off with their fortunes reversed – in key ways -- from what they were before the first debate on Oct. 3 in Colorado.

Heading into the first debate, Romney’s campaign was hoping their candidate would at least hold his own against Obama, who had momentum –and a well-known gift for public speaking – on his side.

Now, Romney goes into the second face-off with the winner’s aura preceding him, and Obama is seen as the one who must rebound from his underwhelming performance in his first time on stage with his opponent.

This meet-up will take place Tuesday at 9 p.m. at Hofstra University in New York, and cover both domestic and foreign issues. The format will be a town hall meeting; CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley will be the moderator.

The forum, which is scheduled to last 90 minutes, may well draw a larger viewership than the first debate, which scored 67.2 million – up 28 percent compared to the first presidential debate in 2008 between then-Sen. Obama and his challenger, Sen. John McCain, Republican from Arizona.

Expected by many political experts to be a close race, many people who may not ordinarily have watched may do so out of curiosity about whether Obama will recover from his Colorado debate.

For their part, many Latinos say they will be listening for topics – such as immigration and Latin America -- that both candidates’ campaigns have emphasized in ads targeting Latino voters, but that have been ignored in the presidential and vice presidential debates by the candidates as well as the moderators.

“I hope they focus on jobs and the economy, of course, and how they’ll improve them,” said Cid Wilson, a board member of National Council of La Raza as well as several other national and regional Latino and civil rights groups. “But I also hope that they bring up issues of civil rights, immigrant rights.”

Obama and Romney have widely different views of how to address illegal immigration, a topic that was dominant during the Republican primary.

Of the Republican candidates who were vying to be their party’s nominee during the primary, Romney often voiced some of the most hard line views on illegal immigration, denouncing policies that offer them a way to legalize as “amnesty” and calling for stricter enforcement.

“Mitt Romney needs to answer for a lot of his anti-immigrant rhetoric,” Wilson said. “The moderators haven’t addressed it.”

Mickey Ibarra, who will be at the Hofstra “town hall” and is founder and chairman of the Latino Leaders Network -- a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing leaders together -- said both Obama and Romney owe voters more details about their promises.

“What is the Obama and Romney plan for restoring our economy, reducing the deficit, and reforming immigration?” asked Ibarra, who served as assistant to President Bill Clinton and was Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House during the Clinton administration. “I want to hear their vision for America from both candidates -- a message without hope is a loser.”

“As for Romney, what specific actions will he take to reduce the partisanship in Congress,” Ibarra said, “what can he bring from his experience as Massachusetts governor to Washington for getting the job done rather than simply looking for partisan advantage?”

Obama has long voiced support for immigration policies that would allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria a way to legalize their status.

In June, he announced a new initiative that would give undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors and who fulfill other requirements a two-year reprieve from deportation, as well as work permits.

But Obama has drawn criticism from many Latinos and advocates of more lenient immigration policies for breaking deportation records.

“Obama said he was going to deal with comprehensive immigration reform, but he didn’t,” said Jennifer Korn, who is executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network and was director of Hispanic and Women’s Affairs in the White House Office of Public Liaison under the George W. Bush administration. “My question for him is, how is he going to work across the aisle when he wasn’t able to do that before, in the last four years?”

Korn also would want Obama to address why he waited “until the last five months” of his first term to offer relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought as children.

Critics have accused the president of taking such action for political gain with Hispanic voters.

“It’s so suspect,” Korn said.

Romney assailed the deportation suspension initiative, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as a stop-gap measure that doesn’t solve the issue of illegal immigration.

He said that, if elected, he would not revoke DACA protection from those who receive it by Inauguration Day, but that he would end the program upon taking office.

Romney has said he would work toward a permanent solution, and has said he does not intend to round people up for deportation, but he has not elaborated on what he would do with those left out of the DACA program.

“For Romney, the question is what are the details for immigration reform and what are the priorities?” Korn asked.

David Laska, spokesman for the New York Republican State Committee, said “Latinos are a key voting bloc, and President Obama has answer for his failure on both foreign and domestic issues that are important to Latinos.”

“In May of 2008, the President promised that ‘we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.’ Four and a half years later, millions of people are still struggling and dying to come to America because of the President's broken promise and our broken immigration system.”

Both Obama and Romney supporters say they hope that the foreign policy questions touch on Latin America.

"There's no question that the issue of what happened in Libya and Syria are important, and they have to be discussed," said Wilson. "But it's important to discuss how to continue to foster trade in Latin America and how to leverage the Latino community that we have here to help strengthen the global economy."

Korn agrees.

“How are we going to push for more free trade,” asked Korn. “This administration has been slow at approving trade agreements and increasing our exports to Latin America.”

"And how are they going to improve relations with Mexico," asked Korn. "We have a lot of allies in Latin America, and there are issues like trade and immigration" that are of mutual interest.

The next presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 22 and will focus on foreign policy.