The Latino vote could be decisive in key states in the 2012 elections and so conservative groups are seeking to attract Hispanics with the promise of representing their interests on issues such as education, unemployment and immigration.

The Hispanic Leadership Network on Friday will begin a two-day convention in New Mexico where Republican leaders from all over the country will meet to discuss problems affecting Hispanics.

The HLN was created last year with the aim of luring Latinos away from their traditional attachment to the Democratic Party.

"I think it's very important that the voice of Latinos be listened to, and traveling around the country over the past six years I've found that the voice of Latinos is not being listened to," HLN executive director Jennifer Sevilla Korn told Efe.

According to a survey released last week by HLN, the support of Latino voters for President Barack Obama has fallen in key states like Florida, Colorado and New Mexico.

The survey found that although Obama continues to be popular among the majority of Hispanics, more and more Latinos believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction, above all with respect to the economic crisis.

Hispanics are facing a national unemployment rate of 11.3 percent, while the level for the general population is 9.1 percent.

At the same time, states like Florida and New Mexico have also seen growing support for legislation seeking to establish sanctions on the state level against those immigrants who have crossed the border illegally.

During the most recent legislative session in Florida lawmakers debated several proposals similar to Arizona's controversial SB 1070, the first legislation to criminalizethe presence of undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, currently the New Mexico state legislature is debating a bill sponsored by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez that aims to do away with a 2003 law authorizing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

"Our immigration system is broken and we must fix it. Seventy-five percent of Americans support some kind of immigration reform; we must take the lead and make our voices heard," said Sevilla Korn in a telephone interview.

"Hispanics have the option to choose which party they want to belong to. I think that no party can take the Hispanic vote for granted," said the activist.

She emphasized that not all Hispanics think alike on the immigration issue and there are other matters that also interest this minority such as unemployment and the economy.

"The Latino vote will be very important for the 2012 presidential election, the block of Latino voters will continue to grow and so it will be fundamental for any candidate or political party to understand the problems affecting our community," Sevilla Korn said.

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