LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama, in a strikingly personal appeal, renewed his call for an overhaul of America's immigration laws before a supportive Latino audience Friday. He portrayed rival Mitt Romney as an obstacle to measures that would give young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
"These are all our kids," he declared.
To a standing ovation, Obama spoke of his directive last week that immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children be exempted from deportation and granted work permits if they applied.
Reflecting on his own life as the first African-American president, he said: "When I meet these young people, all throughout communities, I see myself. Who knows what they might achieve? I see my daughters, and my nieces, and my nephews."
"That's the promise that draws so many talented, driven people to these shores. That's the promise that drew my own father here," said Obama, whose father was Kenyan.
Obama spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, gathered on the sprawling grounds of Disney World, his first speech to a Hispanic group since he announced the new deportation policy. Romney spoke to the group on Thursday, underscoring the importance of the growing Hispanic vote and the influence it could have this election year in swing states from Nevada to Colorado to Florida to Virginia.
Obama's address also illustrated his own challenge in meeting an earlier campaign pledge.
Four years ago, before the same Latino leaders group, Obama vowed to make changing the nation's immigration system and taking steps to legalize millions of illegal immigrants a priority he would "pursue from my very first day."
Though hardly single-minded in their approach to politics, most Hispanics have been voting Democratic in recent elections. Obama has risked losing some support in part because Hispanics have been hard hit by the weak economy. What's more, Latino leaders have also grown frustrated with Obama because he failed to deliver on his 2008 pledge and because his administration was deporting illegal immigrants in record numbers.
On Friday, Obama blamed the lack of broader changes on Republicans who once supported adjustments to immigration law and "have been driven away from the table by a small faction of their own party."
He noted that Romney during the Republican primaries said he would veto legislation, known as the DREAM Act, that would give a path to citizenship to young immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children but have since attended school or served in the military.
"He has promised to veto the DREAM Act and we should take him at his word," he said,
It was lack of action on the DREAM Act — the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act — that led him to take the administrative steps he did last week to defer deportation for some young illegal immigrants and give them work permits instead, he said.