President Barack Obama used a speech here Friday before a major Hispanic organization to renew his pledge to fight for Latino interests and to call again on Congress to pass immigration reform.
The Democrat, who is seeking a second term in the Nov. 6 election, received a warm reception at the annual conference of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO.
Obama defended the executive order he issued last week suspending the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants 30 and under who were brought to the United States before the age of 16.
"It's not amnesty ... It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while offering some justice to these young people," the president said, adding that it is up to Congress to produce a long-term solution to the problem.
Obama, whose his administration has deported a record 1.5 million undocumented migrants since January 2009, stressed that "lifting the shadow of deportation" was the right thing to do.
Last week's announcement suspending deportation for anywhere from 800,000 to 1.4 million undocumented youth has boosted the president's standing with Hispanics, a key voting bloc in several states.
The executive order represents a temporary substitute for the long-stalled DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for qualified undocumented young people.
Without mentioning him by name, Obama attacked presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who pitched his own immigration proposals to NALEO on Thursday.
"In his speech, he said that when he makes a promise to you, he'll keep it. Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word," the president quipped.
"(A)s long as I am president, I will be alongside you, fighting for the country that we together dream of," Obama vowed.
It was more or less the same promise he made in a 2008 address to NALEO, and the GOP sought to turn those words against Obama by pointing to the setbacks experienced by the Hispanic community during his presidency.
Under Obama, the Romney campaign says, the Hispanic unemployment rate has climbed to 11 percent, about three percentage points above the national average, while an additional 2 million Latinos have fallen below the poverty line.
The candidates' appearances at the NALEO convention were part of aggressive efforts to court the 12.2 million Hispanics expected to go to the polls in November.
A poll released Friday by Latino Decisions and America's Voice shows Obama leading Romney by 63 percent to 27 percent among Hispanic registered voters in the swing states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia. EFE