President Barack Obama brought his battle to win over Latino voters on immigration to Florida on Friday, but conservatives and the president’s GOP rival said the key issues for Florida’s diverse Hispanic communities would continue to be the economy, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
In remarks to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, the president touted his decision to allow young, undocumented immigrants to remain in American without fear of deportation — but also kept up pressure on Congressional Republicans, saying the move was a temporary solution to a long term problem.
Obama told the group’s annual conference, being held at Disney World, that he was forced to move after Republicans rebuffed efforts to pass the DREAM Act, a measure that would achieve some of the same goals as Obama’s decision. He said some Republicans had supported the measure until Obama tried to make it a priority.
“The bill hadn’t changed,” he said. “The need hadn’t changed. The only thing that had changed was politics.”
Republicans disputed that characterization. Alfonso Aguilar, head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said Obama instead used a lame-duck session in 2010 to foist his version of the bill on the GOP and give them no chance of amending it.
“That was a political ploy to ensure that Republicans would vote against it, so he could say what he’s saying right now,” Aguilar said. “That is insulting and condescending to Latinos.”
Obama also hinted at Arizona’s controversial law allowing police officers to check the immigration status of some people stopped by law enforcement — a measure Gov. Rick Scott pledged to bring to Florida in his 2010 campaign but has since largely abandoned. Those measures were sparked by the national gridlock on immigration, Obama said.
“It’s given rise to a patchwork of state laws that cause more problems than they solve and are often doing more harm than good,” he said. “This makes no sense. It’s not good for America.”
The larger Florida question looming at the meeting was whether the newfound focus on immigration would change the dynamics in the Sunshine State, where a large share of the Latino population is comprised of Cubans, who are essentially granted legal status if they can make their way to America, and Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens.
For his part, Scott dodged a question on whether his position on the Arizona law had changed, and he shrugged off suggestions that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has clinched the GOP presidential nomination, was avoiding him during Florida swings.
“They’ve asked me to go to things, but it’s always at the last minute for me,” Scott said.
And U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising Republican star from Florida who has worked on a conservative alternative to the DREAM Act, urged partisans on both sides to stop using immigration for political reasons. At the same time, he got his own shot in at Obama during his remarks.
“I was tempted to come here and tell you, ‘Hey, he hasn’t been here in three years. What a coincidence, it’s an election year.’ I was tempted to tell you, ‘Why didn’t he make this issue a priority?'” Rubio said. “I guess I just did tell you.”
In any case, Romney’s campaign argued that the key issue for Latinos in Florida would be the same topic dominating the fall election for other voters: A slow economic recovery that has dogged Obama’s re-election effort.
“I think, again, that Hispanics are looking at what is the vision for America and for job growth,” said Ana Carbonell, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign in Florida.
Romney’s campaign and other conservatives noted that Latinos face a double-digit unemployment rate, higher than the national average and Florida’s current jobless rate.
“At the end, for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, the I-4 corridor, where Florida’s going to be decided, it’s all about the economy,” Aguilar said.