We spoke Friday afternoon with Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, who sized up the immigration debate and the speeches delivered by President Obama, Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio at this week’s gathering at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.


(Charles Dharapak/AP)

Q: What did you think of President Obama’s speech today?

“I think the president really knew his audience. And he was speaking to them on the range of issues that the people in this room are dealing with. I mean, we have here school board members, city council members, county commissioners, state legislators, people who are dealing with budget deficits, people who have constituents who are struggling. So I think he connected on those issues.”

“Governor Romney, I think, yesterday was speaking to them as voters. And I think that’s where he could have had greater impact – if he had spoken to them as his peers, as other elected officials.”

Q: How about [Sen.] Marco Rubio? Where does he fit into all of this?

“You know, Marco Rubio is in a coveted place right now. He has the opportunity to be a true, effective intermediary for the Latino community overall and his party. I think in his heart he understands that he has an incredible responsibility and opportunity to be a kind of leader that can bridge across the parties – because, in fact, on many of these issues, there is consensus among the Latino community leadership that’s Republican and Democrat. And I think he has the opportunity to bridge that.”

“His speech today before this audience I think really demystified the aura of what has been out there of him being the tea party candidate; of him being an extreme conservative. In fact, I think people over here are ready to say, ‘Hey, we have a lot in common with Marco Rubio.’”

Q: What do you think of his scaled-back DREAM Act plan, and the fact that it’s taken his office several months to roll out?

“You know, I think Senator Rubio – it’s his second year in the Senate. He’s learning how to legislate at that level. And I think that he has, again, the opportunity to be an effective intermediary. I’m really looking forward to seeing him flourish as a senator.”

Q: What role has Obama’s move last week on deportations played in the whole debate?

“Well, the kind of reaction that he got here when he mentioned that, I think, is evidence of the fact that it was something long overdue. It was something many people in this room were asking for – some kind of administrative action in the absence of legislative action. But I think everybody understands, it’s only temporary. It’s not a solution.”

“And in fact, that’s what I found most compelling of Governor Romney’s remarks yesterday – when he acknowledged that we have a broken immigration system. The fact that he said that to me, then, suggests that he understands that we need a fix.”