"I promise you I will work timelessly to fix our broken immigration system and make the DREAM Act a reality," Obama said Monday at a luncheon speech at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanics civil rights group.
Obama's remarks as president drew attention because three years ago, candidate Obama had promised to make immigration reform a top priority in his first year as president.
But while the DREAM Act bill that would give legal status to illegal immigrant students who attend college or join the military passed the House of Representatives last year, it was then blocked by Senate Republicans.
Obama on Monday renewed his pledge on immigration reform, saying it's not only a moral thing to do but it's an "economic imperative."
Referring to tech companies such as Google and Intel, which were founded by immigrants and count on a highly skilled foreign-born workforce, Obama said they are "job creators who came to seek opportunity and now seek to share opportunity."
Obama expressed difficulty in fulfilling the promise due to politics and said it was "heartbreaking."
"Republicans helped write the DREAM Act because they knew it was the right thing to do for the country. Today they walked away," Obama said.
The president had his work cut out for him because many Hispanics are wary that progress can happen. Obama stressed he will fight to rewrite U.S. laws to offer a chance at citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Despite Obama's efforts, it wasn't enough to please the crowd of activists in the room.
When Obama addressed the high number of deportations and mentioned he had to enforce the laws that exist and it's something he couldn't change on his own, conference members shouted, "Yes, you can. Yes, you can." in a mocking reminder of Obama's 2008 campaign slogan.
NCLR Chief Executive Officer Janet Murguia expressed her "disappointment" at a news conference after Obama's speech.
While giving Obama credit for appearing at the NCLR conference in the midst of the debt crisis, she said there wasn't anything new offered in his speech.
"I think he used it as a platform to remind us that he believes those issues are important," Murguia said. "Our community was eager to hear more specifics."
Mentioning the Hispanic population as the fastest growing segment in the United States, Murguia said immigration will be an important issue for both parties for next year's election.
"We're certainly not satisfied with the actions seen by the Republicans. Having said that, we'll have an opportunity next year in 2012 to judge the president," Murguia added, "and we'll be able to compare that to the Republican candidate and what that person stands for, what their party's actions have been."
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