Mitt Romney accused President Obama on Thursday of pandering to the Latino community with his administration's latest immigration policy change, telling a gathering of Latino officials in Florida that Obama "failed to act until facing a tough re-election and trying to secure your vote."
The Republican presidential candidate said Obama "failed" to deal with immigration reform until now. He was referring to the Department of Homeland Security's announcement Friday that it would allow thousands of illegal immigrants who came here as children to stay and apply for work permits.
Romney said Obama offered "a temporary measure ... that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election."
"After three-and-a-half years of putting every issue from loan guarantees to his donors to Cash For Clunkers, putting all those things before immigration, now the president has been seized by an overwhelming need to do what he could have done on Day One, but didn't. I think you deserve better," Romney said.
Romney was speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Obama is expected to address the same conference Friday.
Ahead of Obama's speech, Romney sought to convince the Latino community to break with Obama and consider his candidacy as the best hope for immigration reform as well as economic empowerment.
"I believe he's taking your vote for granted," Romney said of Obama. "You do have an alternative."
Romney stressed the 11 percent jobless rate among Latinos and suggested he could turn that around. He also released what was described as a "national immigration strategy" ahead of the speech. In it, he called for raising caps on immigrants from certain countries, raising caps on visas for highly skilled workers, securing the borders and cutting red tape in the visa process. He called for reallocating green cards for immigrants with families and ending caps for spouses and minor children. Romney earned applause from the crowd when he also pledged to seek a "long-term solution" for legal and illegal immigration.
Romney also addressed what has been a nagging question to his campaign since Friday's DHS announcement -- whether he would keep Obama's latest policy if he's elected president.
"The answer," Romney said, "is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."
The DHS announcement put Romney in a tough spot since one of his top backers, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was drafting immigration legislation of his own that sought to deal with the same class of illegal immigrants.
In his immigration policy plan, Romney said illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children should be able to earn legal status by serving in the military.
Obama is riding a wave of Latino enthusiasm over his decision to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work. Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants can avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, and graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.
The new policy could help anywhere from 800,000 young immigrants, the administration's estimate, to 1.4 million, the Pew Hispanic Center's estimate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.