President Obama on Thursday sought to highlight the differences between himself and Republican rival Mitt Romney on the issues of immigration and education.
Speaking at a town hall hosted by the Spanish-language television channel Univision in Florida, Obama was first called to task for failing in a 2008 campaign promise to make comprehensive immigration reform a priority in his first year in office.
Obama replied that he had made that promise before the banking collapse and economic crisis had forced his attention to other issues.
Nevertheless, the president said, he had called together those in Congress who had worked toward immigration reform in the past, only to see Republicans walk away from the table.
"One of my first acts was to invite every single member of Congress who had previously been supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, and to say to them, we need to get this done," Obama said.
He added, "I confess I did not expect -- and so I'm happy to take responsibility for being naive here -- that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform -- my opponent in 2008, who had been a champion of it and who attended these meetings -- suddenly would walk away."
Pushed to acknowledge that he had broken his campaign promise, Obama said that he was limited by the powers of the Presidency and had done as much as he could on his own.
"I'm not the head of the legislature; I'm not the head of the judiciary. We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done," he said. "I am happy to take responsibility for the fact that we didn't get it done, but I did not make a promise that I would get everything done, 100 percent, when I was elected as President."
Obama added, "What I promised was that I would work every single day as hard as I can to make sure that everybody in this country, regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, that they would have a fair shot at the American Dream. And I have -- that promise I've kept."
Obama also noted that even though he had pushed the DREAM Act - a bill that would have provided a path to citizenship and legal status for many illegal immigrants - through the U.S. House, it had been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
But, Obama noted, he has since taken action to ensure that the immigrants who would have qualified for that bill, those who were brought to the U.S. as children and have since gone to college or joined the military, would not be deported, a measure Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney opposes.
"We now are confronted with a choice between two candidates in which the candidate sitting here with you today is committed to comprehensive immigration reform, is committed to the DREAM Act, has taken administrative actions to prevent young people from being deported," Obama said, before taking aim at Romney. "That stands in contrast with the other candidate who has said he would veto the DREAM Act, that he is uncertain about what his plan for immigration reform would be, and who considers the Arizona law a model for the nation and has suggested that the main solution for immigration is self-deportation."
Obama also expressed hope that after he wins re-election, the Republican Party might back away from opposing any measure he favors simply in hopes of defeating him.
And, Obama said, if large numbers of Hispanics and Latinos go to the polls in November, their voices would be more likely to be heard in legislation after the election.
"If the Latino community and the American community that cares about this issue turns out to vote, they can send a message that this is not something to use as a political football, that people's lives are at stake," Obama said.
He added, "My hope is, is that after the election -- when the number-one goal is no longer beating me, but hopefully the number-one goal is solving the country's problems -- if they have seen that people who care about this issue have turned out in strong numbers, that they will rethink it, if not because it's the right thing to do, at least because it's in their political interest to do so."
by RTT Staff Writer
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