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GOP stifling efforts for immigration reform, Obama says

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Wed September 28, 2011
"Open for Questions with President Obama" was streamed live on the White House website.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Republicans are not leading on immigration, Obama says
  • NEW: Human rights in Cuba needed before U.S. extends relations, he says
  • The event comes after the DNC said it is reaching out to Spanish-speaking voters

Washington (CNN) -- Republicans lack the leadership to put comprehensive immigration reform back to the table, President Barack Obama said Wednesday during an online roundtable about issues in the Hispanic community.

Obama reiterated that he he supports a pathway for legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. His immigration vision includes having undocumented immigrants pay a fine or learn English, or other steps that will lead to citizenship. Tough border security enforcement and actions against employers who hire illegal immigrants are the other pillars of his plan.

But immigration reform has not been on the table, even though in the past, Republicans such as George W. Bush and John McCain supported the idea.

Right now, "we don't have that kind of leadership in the Republican Party," Obama said.

The president would like to see Republicans move back to the position they had just a few years ago, he said.

In the meantime, Obama said, the government will continue to enforce the laws on the books but will prioritize accordingly. The highest priority for identification and deportation are undocumented immigrants who are criminals, he said.

"Our enforcement priority is not to chase down young people who are going to school," he said.

The roundtable was moderated by Jose Siade, Yahoo's editor in chief for U.S. Hispanic and Latin America. Obama responded to questions submitted by readers of Yahoo, MSN Latino and AOL Latino/Huffington Post Latino Voice on issues that affect the Latino community.

Obama was asked about a range of topics, from health care to bullying to unemployment.

Some of the questions challenged Obama as to why he has not been able to deliver on programs such as the DREAM Act, which would allow some undocumented children to attend college.

The president replied that he is limited in what he can do without Congress.

"This notion that I can just change the law unilaterally is just not true," he said. The attention needs to remain on the legislative process, he said.

On the topic of Cuba, Obama said the United States is prepared to expand relations when it sees openings in the island nation's tight communist control.

The United States needs to see the freeing of political prisoners, the freedom for Cubans to express their opinions and the right to petition their government before the bond between the countries can be strengthened, Obama said.

"If we see positive movement, we will respond in a positive way," he said.

In the president's opinion, the biggest challenge facing Latinos in the United States, and minorities as a whole, is education.

He also said that the health care law passed in his administration will help a disproportionate amount of Hispanics, as they are more likely not to have health insurance.

The event was streamed live on the White House website.

Can Obama fortify African-American support?

It comes a week after the Democratic National Committee said it is reaching out to Spanish-speaking voters as part of its push to sell Obama's new jobs plan.

The DNC announced that it would begin running Spanish-language television and radio commercials in Denver, Las Vegas and Tampa, Florida.

Obama won all three battleground states, which have large Hispanic and Latino populations, in the 2008 election. Keeping the states in the Democratic column is crucial for the president's re-election chances.

Obama won two-thirds of the Hispanic and Latino vote in the 2008 presidential election, according to national exit polls.

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