Lake Buena Vista, Florida (CNN) – President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned case for his re-election on Friday while defending his record on the economy and his newly stated immigration policy.
He highlighted the new stance, unveiled last Friday, as "the right thing to do" and took aim at his Republican rival over his previous statements regarding the DREAM Act that would have provided a permanent legal pathway for children of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as young people.
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"Giving them a reason to hope, that was the right thing to do," Obama told the crowd at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, about his announcement last Friday.
He said Congress should still pass the DREAM Act, which failed in Congress in 2010, and called out Romney for saying earlier in the primary process that he would veto the bill if it crossed his desk.
"He said he would veto the DREAM Act and we should take him at his word," Obama said of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. "I'm just saying," he added to laughter.
The president specifically pointed to proposals that have helped those in the Latino community, pointing to the expansion of Pell grants, small business tax cuts and health care reform, and contrasted them with those of Republicans who he said believe in a top down system.
"That's how they plan to do it, and I think they're wrong," Obama said.
Romney spoke before the same group Thursday. He called the president's recently announced policy a "temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election." As president, he said, he "won't settle for stop-gap measures" and would instead work with those on both sides of the aisle to find a "long-term solution." But he also did not say what he would do regarding the policy if elected.
His immigration policy, as further laid out in the speech, would include lifting caps on skilled worker visas, speeding up the process of applications for temporary agricultural work visas, reallocating green cards to those looking to keep their families together, green cards for those who receive an advance degree and a legal pathway to citizenship for anyone serving in the military.
The president last addressed the conference in 2008 as the Democratic presidential nominee. At the time he called for immigration reform that would "secure the borders" and "punish employers who exploit immigrant labor."
"That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day," Obama said in June of 2008.
However, he has failed to put forward a comprehensive immigration reform plan while in the White House. He backed the DREAM Act - legislation that would provide a legal pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants - but it ultimately failed in Congress in 2010. Critics argue Obama did not make the issue a priority while Democrats controlled both Congressional chambers. Supporters have blamed a gridlocked Washington for failure to fully address the issue and point to successes within the Department of Homeland Security in deporting those in the country who had run-ins with the law.
It is those successes, the Obama administration has said, that led to the president's policy shift toward undocumented young people currently residing in the United States, now that there are more resources available.
The new directive under existing law, unveiled one week ago, will stop deporting young people in the United States illegally if they meet certain criteria. Those who met the requirements could then apply for a work permit for that time period. The applicants must be under the age of 30 and brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.
On Friday, Obama said he remains ready to pass the DREAM Act and accused Republicans of playing politics.
"My door has been open for three and a half years, they know where to find me," Obama said.
Romney's campaign capitalized on the president's 2008 address to NALEO, saying economic promises he made during that speech have gone unfulfilled.
"In 2008, Candidate Obama promised NALEO he would create new jobs and end the housing crisis," Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote in a statement. "Four years later, President Obama is back asking for more time. No election-year speech can cover up the President's job-killing policies that have led to 11% Hispanic unemployment and millions of Hispanics living in poverty. On Day One, Mitt Romney will take our country in a new direction and get our economy back on the right track."
Despite the announcement's close proximity to Election Day, members of the current administration have insisted the move was not political and instead the just and correct step for those hoping to excel and contribute to America.
But it is impossible to ignore the implications for November. Obama won 67% of Latino support in 2008 to Sen. John McCain's 31%, in a year when they represented a larger share of the voters than in 2004. The biggest breakthrough was in Florida, where he won 57% of the Latino vote, backed by strong showings among men, women and young people, in a state that historically supported Republican presidential candidates.
The Hispanic population in Florida and nationwide has continued to boom in recent years. They make up 22.5% of the population in the Sunshine State, according to 2010 census data, up from over 16% of the population in 2000. Although the voter registration figures among the demographic have increased, the jump has not matched the population spike.
More than 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote nationwide this November, but just over 10 million are registered to vote, a disparity the Obama re-election campaign and that of Mitt Romney are hoping to close.
Recent polling shows a majority of likely voters support the president's policy shift on immigration, welcome news no doubt for the campaign that, like Team Romney, has increased voter outreach to Latino voters, particularly in competitive presidential election states with larger concentrations of eligible Hispanic voters, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
Obama campaign officials predicted the Latino population would represent the same percentage of the vote in 2012 that they did in 2008, at 9% of the electorate, but that more in the voting block would turn out to vote.
Both campaigns have released a consistent string of Spanish language television ads and web videos, in large part targeting battleground states.
Invoking familiar campaign themes from 2008, Obama used Friday's address in part to energize influential Latino leaders.
"Whether our ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or brought here on slave ships, whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande, their diversity has not only enriched this country, it helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known," he said.