President Obama defended his immigration record to a forum hosted by Univision, saying that despite falling short on his promise of comprehensive immigration reform legislation he represents a better choice for Hispanics than Mitt Romney.
Both Obama and Romney are vying for Latino votes, which could play a crucial role in several swing states. Polls show Obama holding a commanding lead among Latino voters, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney has struggled to woo Hispanics after a primary campaign in which he espoused some hardline positions, including advocating a policy of “self-deportation” – essentially, making life tough enough that immigrants voluntarily return to their countries of origin -- and calling Arizona’s tough new immigration law a national model.
That’s not to say the Latino community doesn’t have its grievances with Obama. Deportations have soared to record levels under his administration, and Congress has not tackled legislation to address the country’s immigration system despite Obama’s having vowed to tackle the issue during his 2008 campaign.
Facing questions about those shortcomings on Thursday, Obama said he had been unable to attract the bipartisan support needed to pass immigration reform.
“We initiated the meetings, had a series of meeting, and what we could not get was a single Republican, including the 20 had previously voted for comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. "In our system of government I am the head of the executive branch,” he added. “I’m not the head of the legislative branch, I’m not the head of the judicial branch. We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done.”
Obama also underscored his immigration accomplishments. He pointed out that he supported the DREAM Act, a bill that would extend citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, and – once that legislation stalled – recently unveiled an administrative order that will allow many of those undocumented immigrants to gain a reprieve from deportation and apply for work permits.
“We now are confronted with a choice between two candidates in which the candidate sitting before 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, drawing a sharp contrast with Romney’s record.
The president portrayed the Republican Party as out of step with public opinion on immigration, noting that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has warned about the party's rightward tilt and saying that "we’ve got public opinion on our side" regarding the order shielding young immigrants from deportation. Obama urged voters to send a message on Election Day.
“My hope is that after the election, when the number one goal is no longer beating me and the number one goal is solving the nation’s problems, if they see people who care about this goal have turned out in strong numbers they will do it not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it's in their political interest,” Obama said.
Romney made his case during a Univision forum on Wednesday, accusing Obama of ignoring immigration reform and saying he would pursue a “permanent solution” to mend a system that has “been broken for years.” Romney has said he would veto the DREAM Act, and he has dodged questions about how he would handle the Obama administration's new deportation order.
"I'm not in favor of a deportation — mass deportation — effort, rounding up 12 million people and kicking them out of the country," Romney said during the forum on Wednesday. "I believe people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home, and that's what I mean by self-deportation."
Romney reiterated his support for offering permanent residence to immigrant students who obtain advanced degrees in math and science – an initiative Obama has also backed – but declined again to clarify his stance on the Obama administration’s new deportation initiative.