Editor's note: Watch In America's documentary about the race to capture the Latino vote on CNN in October 2012.
By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
Chihuahua, Mexico (CNN) - In the town of Colonia Juarez, where houses look much like homes in the American Southwest, there lives a family named Romney.
Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather led the first group of Mormons to the state of Chihuahua to flee religious persecution. Mitt Romney’s father George - an auto executive, and Michigan governor who also ran for president in the United States - was born nearby, in a town called Colonia Dublan. He left with his parents when he was only five years old, but Romney relatives still live nearby.
Romney mentioned his family's connections to Mexico on the campaign trail earlier this month, then released a slew of new political ads, including Spanish ads in Florida, a state with a high concentration of Latinos. In one of the ads, Romney’s son Craig, who speaks Spanish, talks about liberty, opportunity and how the United States is a country where “anything is possible.”
“My father, Mitt Romney, believes in those American values because he has lived them himself and he will fight to restore the greatness of our nation,” Craig Romney says in the ad.
For the ad, the Romney campaign also enlisted three influential Latino Republican leaders from Florida, former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, his brother, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“Romney believes in us,” Mario Diaz-Balart says in the ad. As it’s customary, at the end of the ad Romney himself says - in Spanish - that he approves the message. “Soy Mitt Romney y apruebo este mensaje.”
But the political ad and his heritage might not draw many Hispanic voters to the Romney campaign. Some have been driven away by his position on immigration. Romney has said immigration reform offering a path towards citizenship would be tantamount to giving amnesty to illegal immigrants. He also said he opposes the DREAM Act, which would legalize undocumented immigrants with no criminal record who were brought by their parents when they were children and have served in the armed forces or finished college.
This week, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, blasted Romney for his positions on illegal immigration and for welcoming the endorsement of anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach, who was instrumental in drafting strict immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama.
“Mitt Romney and the Republicans are campaigning in the Deep South to restrict the civil rights of immigrants and to continue our nation’s neglect of immigration reform based on the fantasy that 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants could, should or would leave the United States,” Gutierrez said.
“Mitt Romney can surround himself with all the Cuban Republicans in the world - and he will be doing exactly that in Florida - but the stink of the anti-immigrant positions he is taking will not rub off.”
But Bettina Inclan, the newly appointed director of Hispanic Outreach for the Republican National Committee responded to Gutierrez’s remarks.
“Instead of respecting the diversity of the Latino community, Democrats have decided to attack Hispanics and divide the Latino community, because they can’t face the failed policies of Obama administration,” Inclan said. “Hispanics across the nation are rejecting President Obama’s failed economic policies and are holding Obama accountable to the broken promises he made to Latinos during his campaign and through this disastrous administration.”
Back in the rolling hills of the Mexican state of Chihuahua and about 180 miles from the U.S. border and El Paso, Texas, Kelly Wayne Romney, Mitt Romney’s second cousin. He lives next to a gleaming white Mormon temple that sits on top of a hill, a rarity in this largely Catholic country.
Kelly Romney is a citizen of Mexico and the United States, but hasn’t met Mitt Romney. Still, he said he’s proud of the candidate and feels his second cousin would make a great president.
“I think he would make a really great president. I really do. I think he’s got the business experience. I think he’s got integrity,” Kelly Romney said.
But as much as he admires his second cousin, Kelly Romney says he strongly disagrees with his position on immigration, and finds the idea of a border fence “totally ridiculous” and a waste of money.
As the owner of peach and apple orchards and a fruit packing cooperative, Romney, has seen first hand the dynamics of immigration. He’s 69 years old and has lived all of his life in the border state of Chihuahua, with the exception of three years in high school in Tucson, Arizona, and five years later in life in Mesa, Arizona.
“Mitt has expressed a desire to export all of those who are illegal in the United States back to Mexico. I’m against that political philosophy,” Kelly Romney said.
He says there should be a mutually beneficial agreement between Mexico and the United States, an agreement that would recognize that the U.S. agriculture and construction industries can benefit from Mexican labor in an orderly and legal way and that Mexicans can benefit from job opportunities in the United States.
“There should be guest worker programs for [Mexican] people that are practically starving to death to be able to go over there and do work that the American people would not do,” Romney said. “These people that do manual labor, there aren’t any better people in the world than these Mexican people to go over there and do manual labor, working in the fields and other jobs that people over just won’t do. They would rather sit back and draw unemployment rather than get those jobs.”
Still, Mitt Romney’s campaign has affected at least one vote: If Romney gets the nomination, Kelly Romney said, he’ll cross the border to vote for him in November.