President Barack Obama, making his case to Hispanic voters in the crucial swing state of Florida, said Mitt Romney has aligned himself with congressional Republicans who have blocked attempts to fix the nation’s immigration laws.
Speaking at the venue where the Republican presidential candidate criticized the administration’s immigration policy, Obama promised to keep pressing to overhaul the immigration system. He said his announcement last week that the government would exempt from deportation younger illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements was a temporary step.
“The need hasn’t changed,” Obama said in an address today to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Lake Buena Vista. “The only thing that’s changed is the politics.”
Romney yesterday told the group that Obama takes the Hispanic vote for granted and didn’t act on an immigration overhaul when he had Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The former Massachusetts governor offered few details on his plan, other than pledging a “long-term solution” to replace Obama’s temporary measure.
Florida, where the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates were separated by 5 percentage points or less in the previous three elections, is viewed as competitive by both campaigns. Hispanics are a key voting bloc, accounting for 13 percent of registered voters in the state, about the same proportion as black voters.
Hispanic voters have the potential to shift the race in the swing states of Colorado, Nevada and Virginia. The four states, all of which Obama won in 2008, have a total of 57 Electoral College votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
With the economy the dominant issue in the presidential election, Obama said his policies are focused on middle-income Americans and “creating ladders of opportunity for all those who are striving to get into the middle class.”
He accused Romney and the Republicans of pursuing “top-down economics” that would benefit only the wealthiest.
Obama repeated that theme at a campaign rally later in Tampa, citing a Washington Post report that Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private equity firm co-founded by Romney, invested in firms that aided companies relocating U.S. jobs overseas.
“We don’t need an outsourcing pioneer in the Oval Office,” Obama said.
Romney “is dedicated to stopping President Obama’s attack on free enterprise and removing bureaucratic red tape and barriers to job creation for small businesses,” Hector Barreto, chairman of the Latino Coalition, which represents Hispanic business owners, said in a statement issued by the Romney campaign.
The president spoke to the Hispanic officials one week after his announcement that the administration won’t try to deport illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and who have been in the country for at least five consecutive years. They must have no criminal history and attend school or have earned a high school degree or its equivalent, or have served in the military.
“It falls short of where we need to be,” he said today. “It’s a temporary fix.”
Romney, in his remarks yesterday, didn’t say that he would rescind the policy. “The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure,” he said.
“For two years, this president had huge majorities in the House and Senate; he was free to pursue any policy he pleased,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said. “But he did nothing to advance a permanent fix for our broken immigration system.” He only acted when “facing a tough re-election and trying to secure your vote.”
Romney received tepid applause, getting some boos when he mentioned repealing the health-care law Obama championed. Juan Zapata, a Republican and the Latino group’s chairman, called the largely Democratic audience “polite.”
Obama told the audience Romney can’t be trusted on immigration issues because of the positions he took during the Republican primaries.
“He’s promised to veto the Dream Act,” Obama said of legislation, stalled in Congress, that would give some children brought to the U.S. illegally a path toward legal status. “We should take him at his word.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential running mate for Romney, told the group earlier today that the immigration debate won’t be settled until Democrats and Republicans stop using the issue to incite “panic” among voters as a way to win elections and raise money.
“There are too many people that have concluded that this issue unresolved is more powerful,” Rubio said in his address.
The country will neither “round up and deport” nor grant amnesty to about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, he said. “Somewhere between those two ideas is the solution,” said Rubio, who received a standing ovation from the largely Democratic group.
He said Obama hasn’t made immigration a priority until recently and has only addressed the group in election years. “What a coincidence,” Rubio said.
Obama had momentum heading into today’s speech after his announcement last week, said Florida Representative Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat supporting the president.
“He has a lot of wind at his sails,” Soto said.
Obama’s ability to claim credit for blocking deportations of young illegal immigrants will help him in the election, said Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Republican supporting Romney.
“He is going to take a lot of the Latino vote with the message that he’s conveying,” Rodriquez, a member of the Doral, Florida, city council, said after Obama’s speech.
While in Tampa, Obama also attended a closed-door fundraiser with about 25 supporters at the Hillsborough Community College-Dale Mabry Campus. Tickets cost $20,000, with the money going to Obama’s re-election effort, the Democratic National Committee and state party organizations, according to the campaign.