"My first priority was making sure that we prevented us from going into a Great Depression," Obama said after Univision host Jorge Ramos bluntly told the president he had failed to keep his promise to pass immigration reform.
"I did not make a promise that I would get everything done, 100 percent," Obama said, adding that the issue remains a "top priority" for his administration.
The president also took a shot at GOP rival Mitt Romney's suggestion that Obama supporters—which Romney estimated to be 47 percent of the country—have a "victim" mentality and are reliant on government handouts.
"When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is, maybe you haven't gotten around a lot," Obama said, describing Americans as some of "the hardest-working people there are." "People want a hand up, not a handout."
Obama's comments came a day after Romney participated in the first of the Spanish-language network's two forums. The Republican presidential nominee had also come under tough questioning about his immigration policies.
Obama additionally cast blame on congressional Republicans, saying he was "naïve" to think the opposing party would work with him on the issue. He told Univision he was not "all powerful" and simply didn't have the votes to pass the bill without the support of GOP lawmakers.
"One of my first acts was to invite every single member of Congress who had previously been supportive comprehensive immigration reform to the White House and say to them, 'We need to get this done,'" Obama said. "What I confess I did not expect... is that Republicans who had previously supported comprehensive immigration reform … suddenly would walk away."
Obama also insisted that his executive action earlier this year that allows young immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents to obtain work visas without fear of deportation was not politically motivated, as Romney has suggested.
"I was winning the Latino vote before we took that action," Obama said, acknowledging polls that show him leading Romney among Hispanic voters by more than 40 points. And Romney, he said, who has criticized Obama for failing to deliver on immigration reform, is "uncertain about what his plan for immigration reform would be."
Obama added that "the issue here for voters is whose vision best represents the aspirations not just of the Latino community, but of all Americans who believe that we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And that candidate I believe is talking to you right now."
- Politics & Government
- Immigration Issues
- President Barack Obama
- immigration reform