Obama, without mentioning Romney by name, drew a sharp distinction with his challenger on immigration, reminding the crowd of Romney’s 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, he’s 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 Obama’s 2008 victory, had grown increasingly frustrated with his administration over the slow progress of immigration reform. And employment has hit the community particularly hard, with 11 percent of Latinos out of work compared with the national rate of 8.2 percent.
In 2008, Obama had told the NALEO conference that immigration would be a top priority, but he had little to show for it after the defeat of the DREAM Act.
Polls suggest his new immigration policy is popular: A Bloomberg News survey found that among likely voters, 64 percent agree with it.
Obama addressed the NALEO crowd not long after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising GOP star who has been mentioned as a potential Romney running mate, 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 Obama’s immigration announcement last week; the president had not discussed his directive with the senator.
“I don’t care who gets the credit,” Rubio told the crowd in the ballroom. “I don’t. But it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics for some people. Not just Democrats, Republicans too.”
But Rubio ripped Obama’s approach on immigration and suggested that the president has a purely political motivation in making his recent appeal to Hispanics.
“I know in a few moments you’ll hear from the president. I was tempted to come here and tell you, ‘Hey, he hasn’t been here in three years. What a coincidence; it’s an election year,’ ” Rubio said, drawing some boos. “I was tempted to tell you, ‘Why didn’t he make this issue a priority?’ ”