WASHINGTON — On the heels of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, many of the country’s Hispanic leaders are gathering in the nation’s capital to assess their political priorities and establish an agenda for the next four years.

The hot topic at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual conference — immigration reform. Debating the subject at lunches and panels, lawmakers believe it could be the make or break issue for many Latino voters heading to the polls in November.

"We see immigration, even if you yourself are not an immigrant, as an issue that is used to kind of attack us. So we kind of come together on that and say okay, don’t do that," said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-New York.

And in assessing the performances of the two parties at their national conventions, many conference-goers said Republicans failed to make an adequate case for the Hispanic vote.

"We felt that this was an opportunity for Republicans to actually acknowledge the importance of Hispanics in building the United States and being the major workforce of the future. And their only thoughts were ‘how can we round them up and send them back to their place of origin?" said Gumecindo Salas, conference attendee.

With the passage of Arizona’s controversial immigration law and the Obama administration’s failed attempts to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth brought to the US by their parents, immigration has been the source of much partisan debate in Washington.

Latino Democratic lawmakers believe they can use the issue to gain support for President Barack Obama during this week’s conference.

"It’s not the Democratic party that is leading and advocating and passing laws in the different states that definitely are not just anti-immigrant, but anti-Latino," said Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas

And while many caucus leaders are throwing their support behind Obama, they said they don’t want the issue of immigration to be used to further divide the nation.