EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a brief look into the issues voters should view as important in the upcoming Presidential election and how it impacts the American people.
An estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants are living and often working in the United States. Figuring out what to do with them has confounded Washington for years.
Lax enforcement could mean more illegal immigrants competing with citizens and legal immigrants for jobs and some social services. A too-tight policy could mean farmers and others in industries that rely on the cheaper labor of illegal immigrants are left begging for workers, passing higher costs on to everyone else or going out of business.
Obama backed the DREAM Act, a failed bill that would have provided a path to legal status for many young illegal immigrants. In June, Obama decided to allow as many as 1.7 million of them to stay for up to two years. Romney has said he would veto the DREAM Act, though during the second presidential debate he said he supports a path to legal status for young illegal immigrants. He would honor any work permits issued under Obama's plan to delay deportations for many young illegal immigrants but wouldn't accept new applications for the programs.
What, exactly, is discrimination and what should be done to fight it? This election offers choices on the answer.
In areas such as mortgages, voter identification and immigration enforcement, the presidential candidates differ over how to use laws that guarantee equality and how far the Justice Department's civil rights division should go to ensure all Americans are treated fairly.
The election also will shape the Justice Department's actions in continuing court cases that challenge voter ID laws passed in some Republican-led states. Opponents contend such laws unfairly discourage minority voting.
Under Obama, the government has aggressively prosecuted cases where statistics show that blacks and Hispanics are hit harder than whites. Under recent Republican presidents, the Justice Department has limited its enforcement to cases with evidence of intentional discrimination — not where statistics show that minorities were broadly disadvantaged by a particular practice.
Education ranks second only to the economy in issues important to Americans. Yet the U.S. lags globally in educating its children. And higher education costs are leaving students saddled with debt or unable to afford college at all.
State budget cuts have meant teacher layoffs and larger class sizes. Colleges have had to make do with less. It all trickles down to the kids in the classroom.
Although Washington contributes a small fraction of education money, it influences teacher quality, accessibility and more. For example, to be freed from provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, states had to develop federally approved reforms.
Romney wants more state and local control over education. But he supports some of Obama's proposals, notably charter schools and teacher evaluations. So, look for them to be there whoever wins the White House.
America's health care system is unsustainable. It's not one problem, but three: cost, quality and coverage.
The U.S. has world-class hospitals and doctors. But it spends far more than other advanced countries and people aren't much healthier. And in an aging society, there's no reliable system for long-term care.
Obama's expansion of coverage for the uninsured hits high gear in 2014. Obama keeps today's Medicare while trying to slow costs. He also extends Medicaid.
Romney would repeal Obama's health care law but hasn't spelled out what he'd do instead. On Medicare, he favors the option of a government payment to help future retirees get private coverage.
The risk of expanding coverage: Health costs consume a growing share of the stressed economy. The risk of not: Millions continue uninsured or saddled with heavy coverage costs as the population grows older.
The income gap between the rich and everyone else is getting larger, while middle incomes stagnate. That's raised concerns that the middle class isn't sharing in economic growth as it used to.
Obama would raise taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year, plus set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for those earning $1 million or more. He also wants to spend more on education, "a gateway to the middle class." Romney would cut taxes more broadly and says that will generate enough growth to raise all incomes.
Income inequality has risen for three decades and worsened since the recession ended. The Census Bureau found the highest-earning 20 percent earned 51.1 percent of all income last year. That was the biggest share on records dating to 1967. The share earned by households in the middle 20 percent fell to 14.3 percent, a record low.
A more racially and ethnically diverse population is rising in the U.S. and, perhaps within three decades, whites will no longer be the majority. That means shifts in political power, the risk of intensified racial tensions and also the opportunity to forge a multiracial society unlike anything in America's past.
Nearly half a century after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, America elected its first black president in 2008. Obama says that milestone changed attitudes on race, but he never thought his election would bring about a post-racial America. He's tread carefully on matters of race, in some minds too carefully.
Romney appears to favor the melting pot ideal more than the mosaic, envisioning a future in which Americans put aside differences grounded in race and ethnicity to stand as one people. But blacks and Latinos continue to see their interests better represented by Democrats.
Associated Press writers Nancy Benac, David Crary, Tom Raum, Seth Borenstein, Robert Burns, Jack Gillum, Paul Wiseman, Carole Feldman, Mark Sherman, Matthew Pennington, Bradley Klapper, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Daniel Wagner, Stephen Ohlemacher, Alicia A. Caldwell, Christopher S. Rugaber, Jason Keyser, Sam Hananel, Desmond Butler, Richard Lardner, Tom Krisher, Jesse Washington, Matthew Daly, Matthew Lee, Suzanne Gamboa and Cal Woodward contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
To read the full report visit ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/matters-issues-stake-election-17549522