Obama was speaking at a conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials a day after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney had outlined his immigration views in the same forum. Immigration has burst into the presidential campaign since Obama announced last week a directive that would allow thousands of undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation and apply for work permits.
After touching on education policy and his plan to revitalize the economy by promoting research, innovation and more infrastructure projects, Obama turned to immigration. To sustained applause, he declared that he would push for immigration reform that finally lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and continues the American story of energy and renewal and dynamism that's made us who we are.
Hispanic Vote Sided With Obama In 2008
Latinos turned out in force for Obama in 2008, but many advocates have grown frustrated with the president as he has failed to pursue comprehensive immigration reform while driving deportations to record annual levels. The president attributed the lack of progress to the polarized climate in Congress, noting that President George W. Bush had unsuccessfully pursued an overhaul with the support of many Republicans.
Today those same Republicans have been driven away from the table by a small faction of their own party, Obama said
He added that Republicans who once supported the DREAM Act -- a bill, prized by Latinos, that would offer citizenship to many young undocumented immigrants -- had since rejected the bill. The DREAM Act died in the Senate during the twilight of the 2010 session.
The bill hadn't changed, the need hadn't changed, Obama said. The only thing that changed was politics.
Given the difficulty of accomplishing meaningful reforms like the DREAM Act, Obama said, he decided to issue the policy change exempting from deportation many of the immigrants to whom the DREAM Act would apply.
Obama: We're 'Lifting The Shadow Of Deportation From Deserving Young People'
On Friday we announced that we're lifting the shadow of deportation from deserving young people, Obama said as the audience erupted in thunderous applause. I refused to keep looking deserving young people in the eye and telling them tough luck but politics is too hard.
Romney has criticized the move, saying the president is enacting a short-term measure for political gain after failing to tackle a broader legislative fix. Obama addressed those criticisms head on, slamming Republican obstructionism and saying that my door has been open for three and a half years.
Congress still needs to come up with a long-term immigration solution rather than argue that we did this the wrong way or for the wrong reasons, he said.
Romney has softened his tone markedly since the Republican primary, when he denounced any measure of relief for undocumented immigrants as amnesty and called for a policy encouraging self-deportation. But Obama sought to remind his audience of Romney's hardline positions, faulting the Republican nominee for opposing the DREAM Act.
Your speaker from yesterday has a different view on offering relief to young undocumented immigrants, Obama said. In his speech he said if he makes a promise to you he'll keep it. Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word.
The speech featured the kinds of rhetorical flourishes that helped Obama electrify supporters during his 2008 presidential bid. He lauded the contributions immigrants have made to the United States, whether our ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or were brought here on slave ships, whether they signed in at Ellis Island or crossed the Rio Grande, and reprised the theme of unity that animated his 2008 campaign.
Our patriotism is rooted not in race, not in ethnicity, not in creed: it is based in a shared belief in the enduring and permanent promise of America, Obama said.
They took a chance, and America embraced their drive and embraced their courage, said come, you're welcome, Obama said of immigrants drawn to the United States, including his father, who was Kenyan. This is who we are. Every single day I walk into the Oval office, every day that I have this extraordinary privilege of being your president, I will always remember that in no other nation on earth would my story even be possible.