President Barack Obama and the assumed Republican nominee, Gov. Mitt Romney, both appeared before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials at their political conference in Orlando, Fla.
Romney had the first opportunity to speak on Thursday. The attendees didn’t hear about self-deportation that Romney spouted during the primary season. Nor did he talk about his opposition to the Dream Act, an idea shared by potential running mate, Sen. Marco Rubio.
Romney also stayed away from another hot button -- Arizona’s controversial law that requires law enforcement to check for citizenship status. Why not tow the same line he used on the primary trail? Simple, Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority group in the nation and they may hold the keys to victory in several swing states.
To put it bluntly, Romney had to walk a tightrope of his own creation. He did say he would make a path to citizenship for those who served in the military, but that was hollow promise. While many illegal immigrants served, particularly during our last buildups for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, illegal immigrants can’t legally join the military.
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Obama confidently strode into the hall at Disney on Friday knowing his reception would be warm. Last week, he may have pulled off the most timely political coup of his presidency by, through executive fiat, implementing a plan where illegal immigrants brought to this country as children, could stay without fear of deportation.
In reality, the Hispanics in the room should have been disappointed. While Obama says he’s been working on immigration issues for the length of his presidency, very little has been accomplished. Even the latest plan is fraught with unknowns that may not help young Hispanics at all. Some in the audience surely remember that Obama has deported more illegal aliens than any president since Eisenhower.
Still, some decisions are made with the heart, not the head, and for a group that voted for Obama by a 2-1 margin, he’s done nothing but solidify his standing with that community. Romney, on the other hand, is in a hole when it comes to Hispanics. At least with his appearance at NALEO, he stopped digging.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board