President Barack Obama told a gathering of Latino officials from around the country on Friday that he would push for comprehensive immigration reform if he wins in November.
Obama, speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) one day after Mitt Romney addressed the group, accused him and Republicans in general of obstructing efforts to overhaul an immigration system that "makes no sense" and is "not good for America."
"And as long as I am president of the United States, I will not give up the fight to change it," he promised.
America needs "immigration reform that finally lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and as a nation of immigrants, and continues the American story of renewal and energy and dynamism that's made us who we are," he said.
The president, whose administration has deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants, highlighted his decision last week to allow an estimated 800,000 people brought to America as children to stay as long as they meet certain criteria."In the face of a Congress that refuses to do anything on immigration, I've said that I'll take action wherever I can. So my administration has been doing what we can, without the help in Congress," he said, describing his new policy as "lifting the shadow of deportation from deserving young people."
"It's not amnesty. It falls short of where we need to be—a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," Obama said. "But it's precisely because it's temporary, Congress still needs to come up with a long-term immigration solution—rather than argue that we did this the wrong way or for the wrong reasons."
Obama reiterated his support for the Dream Act, legislation to allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain legally as long as they serve in the military or attend college.
"I've said time and again: Send me the Dream Act; I will sign it right away," he said.
"Your speaker from yesterday has a different view," Obama said, referring to Romney. "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."
"And I believe that would be a tragic mistake. You do, too."
Romney's speech to NALEO on Thursday included his first detailed description of what he would do on immigration if elected. He called for increasing the number of immigrant visas, for a mandatory employment verification program and for giving undocumented immigrants who serve in the American military a path to legal status. Romney also assailed Obama's move on Friday as a politically motivated stopgap and accused Democrats of taking Latino votes for granted.
"In 2008, candidate Obama promised NALEO he would create new jobs and end the housing crisis," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. "Four years later, President Obama is back asking for more time. On Day One, Mitt Romney will take our country in a new direction and get our economy back on the right track."
Obama's lead over Romney among Latinos—he is expected to carry that group by double digits—has widened in a handful of key states.