Los Angeles, Calif. – Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in a pointed speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, blamed President Barack Obama for the battered economy and said he'd work with both parties to reform the country's immigration system.
In the speech delivered to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 33d annual convention in Los Angeles Monday afternoon -- GOP presidential nominee Romney blamed President Barack Obama for the 10 percent unemployment rate among Hispanics, higher than the national average of 8 percent.
He blamed both parties for failing to fix the broken immigration system.
"For years, Republicans and Democrats seem to have been more interested in playing politics with immigration than with actually fixing it," Romney said.
But as his campaign, and the Republican Party in general, has done often, the former Massachusetts governor saved his most pointed criticism about federal inaction on illegal immigration for Obama.
"Candidate Obama said that one of his highest priorities would be to fix immigration in his first year in office," Romney said. "Despite his party having majorities in both houses of Congress, the President never even offered up a bill. Like so many issues confronting our nation, when it comes to immigration, politics has been put ahead of people for too long."
Romney vows to reach across the political aisle to fix the immigration system. Details of the Romney campaign position on various aspects of immigration are on his website. He has expressed support for giving green cards to foreigners who study math, science and engineering in U.S. schools, and to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children who commit to serving in the military. But he opposes most proposals for a pathway to legalization for people who are here illegally.
Obama, along with many Democrats, has blamed Republicans for the absence of a comprehensive immigration reform bill during his administration.
In polls, likely Latino voters consistently say they care most about the economy -- the focal point of Romney's campaign platform. Immigration, Latinos say in polls, is not a top concern -- but the tone with which it is addressed does matter, they stress.
Political observers and Latino community leaders claim Republicans turned off many Latinos during the GOP primary, when most of the candidates vying to be the party's presidential nominee took a particularly hard line on immigration. Romney, in particular, took a much harder line on immigration than any presidential candidate in recent history, political observers noted.
Romney has vowed to veto the so-called DREAM Act, a bill backed by Democrats that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He supports more security along the U.S.-Mexican border, official English legislation and making E-Verify, a fingerprint database that checks for immigration status, available nationwide.
"America is a nation of immigrants, and immigration is essential to our economic growth and prosperity," Romney said. "I want to preserve our heritage of robust legal immigration. And I want to make sure that those who abide by the law and wait in line to immigrate here legally are not at a disadvantage."
Latinos who favor immigration reform that would offer a pathway to legalization to certain undocumented immigrants have their misgivings about Obama, too, according to polls and interviews.
Many hold the view that Obama did not push comprehensive immigration reform with the same persistence and passion that he did healthcare reform, for instance. And there's also the record number of deportations -- roughly 400,000 a year, most involving people with no criminal record -- that have occurred under his watch.
Obama tempered the frustration somewhat in June, with his administration's announcement that it would suspend deportations for two years for undocumented immigrants under 31 years old who were brought to the United States as minors and who had no criminal record, among other criteria.
Critics called the move, known as "deferred action," an "election year ploy" that did not offer a permanent solution to illegal immigration.
The Latino vote is considered critical to a victory in the November presidential election. Some 21 million Latinos are eligible to vote; 12 million are projected to actually cast ballots.
Polls of likely Latino voters show that Romney trails far behind Obama among this bloc. Many polls show at least 60 percent of likely Latino voters favor Obama, and less than 30 favor Romney -- far below the 38 percent support among Latinos that the Romney campaign says it is hoping to get.
A record-breaking 10.2 million Latino voters cast ballots in the U.S. presidential election in 2008, and nearly 70 percent voted for Obama.
Romney has pushed the theme of free enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit in his campaign -- a theme he has often risen in appeals to Latinos, who account for many new small businesses. His message to Latinos and other Americans is that he would improve the economy by cutting spending and scaling back big government. Romney also says the Obama administration has made it difficult for small businesses to thrive; some of his ads on the issue have featured Latino small business owners.
"I know small business, not because I studied it in school, but because I lived small business," Romney said. "And I know that small businesses are being crushed by President Obama’s policies. Too often, government regulators treat businesses like the enemy, and they crush them with an avalanche of regulations."
Obama's campaign is depicting Romney as favoring the rich at the expense of low-income and middle-class Americans. His campaign has warned Latinos and other voters that a Romney presidency would imperil the healthcare legislation that Obama pushed through Congress and that Obama supporters say would help the many Latinos who lack health insurance.
During his speech, Romney tried to deflect some of the criticism and said that the so-called Obamacare plan would cause health insurance premiums to rise and depress job creation.
"I will repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that increase choice, slow down the runaway growth of insurance costs, and open the door to more new jobs," Romney said.