LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This time, President Barack Obama insisted Friday to an audience of Latino elected officials who'd heard a similar promise four years ago, he really means it: He's going to fight to overhaul the nation's badly broken immigration system.
As a candidate four years ago, he said much the same to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials: Changes in immigration policy, he said, are "a priority I will pursue from my very first day."
Instead, other crises consumed his first days, then his first months and years: the faltering economy, healthcare, terrorism threats and other matters. He barely made a serious push for immigration measures.
Obama still commands the loyalty of many Hispanics, whose votes he won by more than 2-to-1 in 2008, and polls suggest that he'll do that well again. But he needs to fire up these troops, because many in this influential, politically sophisticated crowd want assurances. Thursday, they heard presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney point out that "despite his promises, President Obama has failed to address immigration reform."
Obama has been fighting back, and Friday he tried to show sharp differences with Romney. He reminded the audience that he announced just last week that he'd no longer deport certain young undocumented workers.
"It was the right thing to do," he said. He also told the association that he'd seek longer-term solutions that "live up to our heritage."
"For those who say we should do this in a bipartisan fashion, absolutely," he said. "My door's been open for three and a half years. They know where to find me," he said.
"I've said time and time again, send me the DREAM Act. I will sign it right away," the president said. The act would provide a path to citizenship for many young people who entered the United States illegally. Obama reminded the crowd that Romney has said he wouldn't sign the proposed act. "He has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word," the president said.
Romney got a lukewarm reception from the conference crowd Thursday, while Obama's directive a week ago clearly had energized Latinos, said Matt Barreto, a co-founder of Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan polling firm.
Utah state Sen. Ross Romero, a Democrat, said Romney "didn't have the enthusiasm from a lot of Latino voters. But it's always a choice between two candidates in the end, and you have to weigh all the president's accomplishments in office."
Latino leaders urged looking beyond immigration.
"Immigration is not the only issue on the minds of Latino voters. Immigration reform is not going to help somebody keep their house or hold a job," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.