Obama, Romney say immigration reform needed to spur job growth

President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney spoke a day apart at a conference for Latino elected officials last week, both framing immigration reform as an necessity to spur economic growth.

For Romney, the speech before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Orlando marked the first time the Republican candidate shifted the focus of his campaign from the economic recovery to immigration. The move came days after Obama announced his administration would stop deporting hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

Romney spoke of a softer approach to immigration reform, pledging to overhaul the green card system for immigrants with families and end immigration caps for their spouses and minor children.

“Immigration reform is not just a moral imperative, but an economic necessity as well,” Romney said. “Immigrants with advanced degrees start companies, create jobs, and drive innovation at a high rate. Immigrants founded or cofounded nearly half of our 50 top venture-backed companies. They are nearly 30 percent more likely to start a business. And that kind of risk taking is something we need more than ever because new business starts are now at a 30-year low.”

Obama delivered his speech before NALEO a day later, saying Latino communities have been hit harder by unemployment but that his administration has expanded Pell Grants and invested in community colleges, which are “a gateway to a good job for so many Hispanics,” he said.

“One of America’s greatest strengths has been our ability to attract talented and hardworking people who believe in this country and want to help make it stronger,” Obama said. “Our current immigration system doesn’t allow for those values. It tells the best and brightest to study here, but tells them to leave — start a company somewhere else.

“As long as I am president, I will not give up the fight to change it ... They are Americans in every single way except on paper, all they want is to go to college and give back ... lifting the shadow of deportation and giving them a reason to hope was the right thing to do.”

Both candidates have identified Latino voters as a key demographic to win in November. Romney has tried to highlight unemployment — which is at 11 percent among Hispanics, higher the national average of 8.2 percent — as a failure on Obama’s part.

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.

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