Obama: Immigration reform requires changing the law

President Barack Obama said that while he can lessen some of the injustices in the current U.S. immigration system, real progress requires changing the law.

His obligation as president is to enforce the existing law, Obama said in a White House roundtable with correspondents from Efe and other Spanish-language media outlets.

Recent changes in deportation policy that prioritize expelling undocumented immigrants who committed crimes are not sufficient, according to the president, who said the problem cannot be resolved through "administrative" measures.

Amending the policy on deportations will not achieve the path to citizenship for undocumented migrants "that I believe must be part of the solution," he told the journalists.

Obama said his administration will continue to press for comprehensive immigration reform, one of his 2008 campaign promises.

His failure so far to deliver on that promise is one of the factors that have sparked a drastic drop in support for the Democratic president among Hispanic voters, which according to the latest surveys stands at 48 percent, compared with 67 percent in 2008.

The president, however, told the media roundtable that Latino voters will not punish him in 2012 for his not being able to persuade Republicans in Congress to do the right thing on immigration.

Turning to the economy, Obama said the jobs bill he sent to Congress on Monday will have an "enormous impact" on the Hispanic community.

Part of the program, $15 billion, will go to investment in infrastructure, something that will benefit Latino workers with their strong presence in construction.

And the more than 1 million Hispanics without jobs could see their unemployment benefits prolonged, the president said.

Obama believes that the measure has the right mix of tax cuts and investment to provide an immediate stimulus to the economy, in which joblessness is around 9.1 percent.

One of the groups hit hardest by the recession are young Hispanics, with an unemployment rate of 19.3 percent.

To try and reduce that percentage, the White House will help the states create summer job programs for low-income Latino youths in 2012.

The president also discussed a demand from Congress that his administration hand over all records relating to the possible involvement of three former and current White House staff members with the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-trafficking sting.

The White House Office of Legal Counsel is reviewing the congressional request, Obama said.

He said he did not learn about Fast and Furious until the operation went badly wrong and that White House officials were told only that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was planning an operation aimed at reducing the smuggling of guns to Mexico, where more than 40,000 have died in drug-related violence.

The controversial 2009-2010 undercover operation saw ATF agents allow some 2,000 weapons purchased by straw buyers at U.S. gun shops to be smuggled into Mexico.

The idea was to trace them to powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, but once Fast and Furious got underway ATF agents realized they had no dependable way to keep track of the guns, which eventually began appearing at crime scenes on both sides of the border.

The operation has caused tension between the United States and Mexico and is the object of separate investigations by the Justice Department and Congress.

Obama said that the operation does not represent the policy of the administration and stressed his interest in collaborating as closely as possible with Mexico to deal with the scourge of drug trafficking.

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