President Obama urged Latino voters to stick with Democrats in 2012 in a speech to the National Council of La Raza on Monday, telling them he needed their support to overcome Republican obstruction and pass immigration reform.
“The Democrats and your president are with you,” Obama said. “Don’t get confused about that. Remember who it is that we need to move in order to actually change the laws.”
Obama’s speech comes amid an advertising push by Republicans and conservative independent groups to court Latino voters, a crucial bloc in the Democrats’ winning 2006 and 2008 coalitions. Mitt Romney also put out a statement ahead of Obama’s speech noting that Hispanic unemployment was disproportionately high and claiming Obama “failed Hispanic Americans on jobs.” Democrats responded to attacks like these with an ad buy of their own, the DNC’s first of the season, touting Obama’s success in passing legislation expanding health care coverage and education opportunities for Latino Americans.
Obama addressed education and health care as well, but focused his speech primarily on immigration reform. He noted to the audience that past Republican support for both comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act has all but disappeared since the party swerved to the right in recent years.
“Let’s be honest, I need a dance partner here and the floor is empty,” he said.
Obama also dealt with the most contentious part of his record, the increasingly high number of deportations under his administration. Hispanic lawmakers have called on the White House to slow enforcement of non-criminal deportations and offer a stay to undocumented residents who would be affected by the DREAM Act should it pass, the latter of which the White House is partially attempting.
“I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own and, believe me, right now dealing with Congress, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting,” he said, interrupted by chants of “Yes you can!” from the audience. “But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our Democracy functions.”
He added that even while he must uphold even “flawed” laws, he still understands the “real pain” that deportation causes and sought to enforce them in “the most humane possible way.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.