Obama acknowledged a sense of frustration among Latino voters, who turned out to support him in large numbers in 2008, that he has failed to advance legislation to overhaul immigration laws. Obama has presided over a record number of deportations, something that observers believe is intended to shore up support from enforcement-minded Republicans for legislative action. But he said on Monday that that support is not forthcoming.
"The idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you, not just on immigration reform. But that's not how our system works. That's not how our democracy functions. That's not how our Constitution is written," Obama said as chants of "Yes you can" broke out from the crowd.
"Let's be honest, I need a dance partner here, and the floor is empty," Obama said. "Feel free to keep the heat on me and keep the heat on Democrats, but here's the only thing you should know -- the Democrats and your president are with you, are with you," he added. "Don't get confused about that. Remember who it is we need to move in order to actually change the laws."
Obama failed to secure what would have been an important victory last year when the DREAM act, which would have established a path to citizenship for some immigrants who moved to the country illegally as children, did not make it through Congress. A group of students referenced the fact during his speech, standing up to reveal t-shirts that read "Obama stop deporting DREAMers."
Obama has also faced criticism over accusations that his doubling down on enforcement is sweeping up low-level offenders, not just the violent criminals he has said constitute the bulk of deportations -- recently released data showed a sharp increase in the number of people deported after registering traffic violations. Democratic governors have repudiated a federally mandated program known as Secure Communities, which requires law enforcement to share information on arrestees with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, citing the high number of non-violent offenders it placed in deportation proceedings.