President Obama on Friday presented Latino politicians and officials with a full-throated defense of his decision last week to halt deportations of some young immigrants, the day after Republican candidate Mitt Romney criticized the president’s policy shift.
“I have met these young people all across the country,” Obama said. “They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, they are Americans through and through, in every single way but on paper.”
“Lifting the shadow of deportation and giving them hope, that was the right thing to do,” Obama said, although it wasn’t a permanent fix.
The audience sat rapt for much of the president's speech, and burst into applause throughout. In his remarks, Obama wove together his 2008 message of hope with his more recent focus on rebuilding the middle class.
The president said he’ll keep fighting for comprehensive immigration reform as long as he’s in office, and criticized Congress for dragging its feet on the issue. The Dream Act, he said, was blocked by congressional Republicans.
“My door’s been open for three and a half years. They know where to find me,” Obama said. “I’m still willing to work with anyone from either party who’s committed to real reform.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has accused the White House of failing to work with him on a more limited alternative to the Dream Act. Rubio addressed the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials shortly before Obama, blaming both parties for politicizing immigration.
Obama reminded the crowd that Romney—whom he referred to as ‘your speaker from yesterday’ -- has promised to veto the Dream Act. Romney told them yesterday that he’d work for comprehensive immigration reform if elected.
“He has promised to veto the Dream Act, and we should take him at his word,” Obama said. “I’m just sayin'.”
The speech marked a return to some of the themes that propelled Obama's 2008 campaign: the power of American diversity, the importance of giving young people hope and opportunity, and his own life story.
“In no other nation on earth could my story even be possible. That’s something I celebrate, that’s what drives me in every decision I make: to try to widen the circle of opportunity. To fight for that big and generous and optimistic country we inherited, to carry that dream forward for generations to come,” Obama said.
America was built, he added, by people "who said, 'Yes, we can,' who said, 'Si, se puede.' "