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Obama bemoans Congress's inaction on immigration reform, too

It's not all about the debt ceiling. In a speech to the Latino community – a key voter bloc for 2012 – Obama on Monday blamed Republicans for blocking immigration reform at the federal level.

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As a presidential candidate, Obama had promised to address immigration reform during his first year in office, but that never happened. Since then, the Latino community had placed a lot of the blame on him and the Democrats for the stalled progress. But with a speech in May in El Paso, Texas, near the US-Mexican border, Obama began to fight back.

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In the El Paso speech, “he really shifted the focus and put the blame on Republicans,” says Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “In today’s speech, he went a little further by calling out the Republicans.”

Obama has scheduled regular events with the Latino community since taking office – White House conferences, speeches, a rare official presidential trip to Puerto Rico – in a clear effort to maintain support of the nation’s fast-growing Hispanic population, despite the lack of progress on issues most important to its members. Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008, and he hopes to match or even surpass that in 2012.

The latest impreMedia-Latino Decisions tracking poll, taken last month, showed Obama’s overall approval among Latinos at 68 percent, but on the immigraion issue it was only 48 percent.

The poll showed strong Latino support for executive action – 74 percent – to stop deportations of undocumented immigrants who are married to US citizens. Sixty-six percent support executive action to stop deportations of undocumented immigrants who are eligible to take part in the DREAM Act, the proposal that would grant permanent residency to certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the US as minors and who fulfill educational or military requirements.

On Monday, Obama’s wishing-out-loud that he could just, in effect, wave his magic executive wand and pass these policies may have brought him big applause, but it also ramped up hopes that perhaps it’s an approach he could legally try.

“He was trying to use that as an opportunity to make a joke about the debt ceiling,” says Mr. Barreto. But regarding immigration laws, “people actually want him to do this. That was a bit of dangerous territory for him.”

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