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President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney pledge to pursue immigration reform

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 12:07 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, June 8, 2012. President Barack Obama and Romney courted Latino voters this week, presenting plans for immigration reform. (Nati Harnik, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, June 8, 2012. President Barack Obama and Romney courted Latino voters this week, presenting plans for immigration reform. (Nati Harnik, Associated Press)

A week after President Barack Obama issued an executive order halting the deportations of some young illegal immigrants, he told a friendly audience of Latino leaders he will push to make more permanent changes to the country's immigration system.

Obama did not present a plan for an overhaul, though, saying he expects Congress to shoulder that responsibility, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The president blamed Congress for the lack of progress on immigration reform. Despite a 2008 campaign pledge to take early action on immigration, Obama has not tried to advance a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws. Republicans blocked the Dream Act, a less sweeping proposal that would have given young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military a path to citizenship.

Republican conservatives have “created the same kind of stalemate on immigration reform that we're seeing on a whole range of other economic issues, and 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. And as long as I am president of the United States, I will not give up the fight to change it.”

President Barack Obama announces that the U.S. government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives, Friday, June 15, 2012, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Obama and Mitt Romney courted Latino voters this week, presenting plans for immigration reform. (Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press) President Barack Obama announces that the U.S. government will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives, Friday, June 15, 2012, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Obama and Mitt Romney courted Latino voters this week, presenting plans for immigration reform. (Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press)

Critics called Obama out for failing to take responsibility.

"It's pathetic, actually, to see a president who hasn't delivered on this issue telling the crowd to go talk to Congress," wrote Jennifer Rubin in an editorial for The Washington Post. "Is he the president? Only in name, it seems."

While immigrant advocates have cheered Obama's order to begin granting work permits to some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, they have voiced concern that the temporary measure leaves people in legal limbo.

"To make a real difference, these young people need something more than a memo; they need citizenship," wrote Justin Akers Chacon, a professor of U.S history and Chicano studies at San Diego City College, in an editorial for The Philadelphia Enquirer. "The policy defers deportation only for the duration of the permit; it does not remove the threat altogether. It also leaves out millions, including the parents and other relatives of the youths who qualify for the reprieve."

The president reminded the crowd that his opponent Mitt Romney promised to veto legislation that would make the order more permanent.

“I believe that would be a tragic mistake," he said. "You do, too.”

In the meantime, with the Republican nomination all but in the bag, Romney, who has said he supports encouraging illegal immigrants to "self-deport," is softening his approach to immigration, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

In his address to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Thursday, Romney pledged to redouble efforts to secure U.S. borders and make it more difficult to overstay visas. He said he plans to issue green cards to foreigners who earn advanced degrees in the United States, reallocate green cards to keep families together and create a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who serve in the military.

But Romney sidestepped questions about whether he planned to undo Obama's executive order halting deportations for some young illegal immigrants. Instead, he reassured voters, "I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure."

Some passed Romney's plan off as old and tired.

"What Romney glossed over Thursday before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials was how difficult some of those changes could be," Alicia A. Caldwell said in an Associated Press editorial. "Some already have been tried, with little or no success."

For example, Caldwell argued, to change the way green cards are issued, Romney would need help from Congress. Republicans have blocked legislative attempts to raise green card limits. Romney's suggestion to "field enough Border Patrol agents, complete a high-tech fence and implement an improved exit verification system" parallels the Bush administration's virtual fence plan, which ultimately failed, she said.

"Romney's plans don't take notice of what's already been done," Caldwell wrote.

At a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the only Latino Republican in the Senate, defended Romney's immigration politics. The presidential hopeful's comments about self-deportation, or the idea of encouraging illegal immigrants to return to their native countries of their own accord, were not a statement of policy, Rubio said.

“It is an observation of what people will do in a country that is enforcing its immigration laws,” Rubio said. “And I think quite frankly some of that is happening now because of economic improvement in Mexico."

While Romney doesn't have an immigration bill "per se," Rubio said, "neither does the president."

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