ORLANDO, Fla. – A week after unveiling a new immigration policy, President Obama made a direct appeal to a large conference of Hispanics on Friday, hoping to rally a constituency that could be crucial to his re-election.
Obama addressed hundreds of members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, just a day after his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, appeared at the same conference.
Romney, who courted conservative primary voters with hard-line opposition to illegal immigration, began an attempt to soften his image and move toward the center by pledging Thursday to loosen some restrictions on the flow of legal foreign workers.
Obama, without mentioning Romney by name, drew a sharp distinction with his challenger on immigration, reminding the crowd of Romneys opposition to the DREAM Act, the legislation intended to put many illegal immigrant students and veterans on a path to citizenship. The bill was defeated in Congress after Republicans opposed it.
Your speaker from yesterday, hes promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word, Obama said.
By contrast, the president said that he announced last week that his administration would stop deporting some illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children and have gone on to be productive and otherwise law-abiding residents.
I refused to keep looking deserving young people in the eye and telling them, Tough luck; the politics are too hard, Obama said.
Hispanics, who had helped power Obamas 2008 victory, had grown increasingly frustrated with his administration over the slow progress of immigration overhaul.
And employment has hit the community particularly hard, with 11 percent of Hispanics out of work compared with the national rate of 8.2 percent.
Polls suggest his new immigration policy is popular: A Bloomberg survey found that among likely voters, 64 percent agree with it.
Obama addressed the NALEO crowd not long after Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., criticized the president during his own speech at the conference.
Rubio, who had been crafting a scaled back version of the DREAM Act, was blindsided by Obamas immigration announcement last week; the president had not discussed his directive with the senator.
I dont care who gets the credit, Rubio told the crowd in the ballroom. I dont. But it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics for some people. Not just Democrats, Republicans too.