In a high-profile address to Latinos Thursday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said President Barack Obama had "failed to address immigration reform" after promising to do so during the 2008 campaign and vowed that, if elected, he would enact comprehensive measures that would enable families to remain together and improve economically.
"I will work with Republicans and Democrats to build a long-term solution," Romney said in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to scattered applause from the audience. "I will prioritize efforts that strengthen legal immigration and make it more transparent and easier. And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner. We may not always agree, but when I make a promise to you, I will keep it."
Romney's much-anticipated address to the annual conference held by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) came at a time when President Obama's advantage with Latinos appears to be growing. In 2008 Obama won the Latino vote by more than a two-to-one margin and, after the president's announcement last week that his administration would not seek to deport up to 800,000 children of illegal immigrants in this country, his lead now seems more formidable than ever.
Romney in Florida denounced Obama's move as "a stop-gap measure" that was a political effort to win the Latino vote.
"I think you deserve better," Romney told the group. "Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."
While Romney avoided offering many specific details on his broader immigration approach, he said that he would take "common-sense" steps to keep immigrant families together.
"Too many families are caught in a broken system that costs them time and money and entangles them in excessive red tape," he said. "For those seeking to come to America the right way, that kind of bureaucratic nightmare has to end. And we can do this with just a few common-sense reforms. As president, I'll reallocate green cards to those seeking to keep their families under one roof. We will exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. And we will eliminate other forms of bureaucratic red tape that keep families from coming together."
Although Romney currently trails Obama by large margins, according to recent polls of Latinos, the Republican hopeful may have reason for optimism. Even though Obama's decision to relax the deportation rules helped the president's standing with Latinos, the most important issue to the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc is not immigration, but rather the economy – and on that front, Romney may see an opening: the current unemployment rate for Latinos is 11 percent, higher than the national average of 8.2 percent.
In Las Vegas last October, a single mother of two named Ana said she would oppose Obama this year – despite having voted for him in 2008 – because her economic situation has worsened since then.
"No ha hecho nada," she said. "He hasn't done anything."
On Thursday Romney said that "Hispanics have been hit disproportionately hard" by the economic downturn.