Obama addresses an audience in Denver, Colo. Tuesday (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)President Obama on Wednesday urged frustrated Americans to stop blaming him for the standstill on federal immigration reform and to direct their displeasure instead at Republicans in Congress.
"The notion that I can somehow just change the laws unilaterally is just not true," Obama told moderators Wednesday during a Hispanic online roundtable-- "Open for Questions"-- hosted by Yahoo!, MSN Latino, AOL Latino and HuffPost LatinoVoices.
"The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books I have to enforce. And there is a great disservice done to the cause of getting the Dream Act passed and comprehensive immigration reform passed by perpetuating the notion that somehow by myself I can just go and do these things," Obama said, referring to proposed legislation to provide a path to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants.
The president praised past Republican presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, whom Obama said understood the importance of comprehensive immigration reform.
"Right now, you do not have that kind of leadership coming from the Republican party," Obama claimed.
Immigration reform is one of the many issues the president will be forced to address as he courts Hispanic voters during his 2012 re-election campaign. The president finds himself in a middle ground, both advocating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and acting as the enforcer of current immigration laws.
Obama was asked to address an increase in deportations that has occurred during his tenure. He said the numbers are "a little deceptive."
Apprehensions at the border are counted as deportations in the reported statistics, Obama said, so the uptick in deportations is caused by "more effective" border control, not by deportations of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants. The president said his administration has attempted to be as "fair," "humane" and "just" as it can with regard to enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.
The president would not directly address the idea of Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator from Florida, as a frequently mentioned Republican vice presidential candidate. But Obama did say that the day of seeing a serious Hispanic candidate for the nation's highest office is approaching.
"I am absolutely certain that within my lifetime we will have a Latino candidate for president who is very competitive," Obama said.
But the president also noted the declining turnout figures for Hispanic voters, who have been sitting out elections in increasing numbers.
It remains to be seen if Hispanics can increase their "participation levels to match up the numbers with political power," Obama said of the growing Hispanic population. "If you're voting at a lower rate, you're giving up some of your power."