By Amie Parnes - 06/22/12 07:24 PM EDT
President Obama swiped Mitt Romney on Friday for having a “different view” on immigration and told Hispanic leaders they should take Romney “at his word” that he would veto the DREAM Act.
Speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) the day after Romney addressed the group, Obama sought to telegraph the message that he’s the candidate who has the best interests of the Hispanic community — a group critical to his reelection — at heart.
Referring to Romney as “your speaker from yesterday,” Obama reminded the crowd of a promise the former governor made during the Republican primaries.
“In his speech he said that when he makes a promise to you, he’ll keep it,” Obama said. “Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word.”
The crowd applauded wildly at the line and Obama appeared to feed off it, adding, “I’m just saying. I believe that would be a tragic mistake.”
Obama defended his administration’s new policy that would halt deportations for some illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
“Lifting the shadow of deportation and giving them a reason to hope,” Obama said, was “the right thing to do."
“It’s not amnesty,” Obama said. “It falls short of where we need to be, a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. It’s a temporary measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while offering some justice to these young people.”
In the meantime, he urged Congress to come up with a long-term immigration solution instead of arguing that his administration’s new policy was done the “wrong way or for the wrong reasons.”
In his own address to NALEO on Thursday, Romney attempted to turn the tables on Obama.
The presumptive GOP nominee accused Obama of failing to show leadership on Hispanic issues and said the deportation order was a cynical ploy to secure votes from a much-needed constituency.
“For two years, this president had huge majorities in the House and Senate; he was free to pursue any policy he pleased,” Romney said. “But he did nothing to advance a permanent fix for our broken immigration system. Nothing.”
“Instead, he failed to act until facing a tough reelection and trying to secure your vote,” Romney added.
Obama countered in his speech that, while his administration hasn’t been able to pass immigration reform — as he promised the group when he stood before them as a presidential candidate in 2008 — he been an advocate on their behalf in the White House. He chided Congress for inaction on the DREAM Act.
“We should have passed the DREAM Act a long time ago,” Obama said.
“To those who are saying Congress should be one to fix this, absolutely,” he said. “For those who say we should do this in a partisan fashion, absolutely.
“My door has been open for three and a half years,” he added. “They know where to find me. I’ve said time and again, send me the DREAM Act, I will sign it right away. And I’m still waiting to work with anyone from either party who is committed to real reform.”
In the meantime, Obama said he could not look “deserving” young people in the eye and tell them “tough luck.”
Obama also highlighted other achievements of his term that he said benefit the Hispanic community, including his healthcare law, which could be overturned by the Supreme Court next week.
The president defended the law ahead of the court decision, calling it “the right thing to do,” then repeated the line twice for emphasis.
— This story was updated at 3:38 p.m.