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Obama responds to Romney at NALEO conference

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL -- A day after Mitt Romney spoke before Latino political leaders here and criticized President Obama on the economy and for not achieving comprehensive immigration reform, the president today took his turn on the stage, touting his recent executive action help young illegal immigrants.

And he gladly returned the fire, arguing that Romney's positions were out of step with the Latino community.

"In his speech [yesterday] he said that when he makes a promise to you he'll keep it," Obama told the 1,300 attendees at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference. "Well, he has promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word."

The president received applause when he talked about his executive action -- announced last Friday -- that would temporarily lift deportation threats from qualified young illegal immigrants.

While he said the action fell short of granting these young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, he added that he believed it was still the right thing to do.

"Was providing these young people with the opportunity for a temporary measure of relief the right thing to do? I think it was. It's long past time that we gave them a sense of hope."

Rebutting Romney's charge from yesterday at the same conference, the president noted that he would have enacted further reforms if congressional Republicans were willing to work with their Democratic counterparts, as they did when 23 Senate Republicans -- including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joined former President George W. Bush to champion comprehensive immigration reform.

"Today those same Republicans have been driven away from the table by a small faction of their own party," he said.

He added that Congress could have passed the DREAM Act -- essentially a permanent version of the presidents stopgap measure, but with a pathway for citizenship -- when it came up for a vote a year and a half ago. But the measure fell five votes short of getting the 60 needed to clear a filibuster.

"The bill hadn't changed. The need hadn't changed. The only thing that had changed was politics," he said.

The president also seemed to take a jab at Sen. Marco Rubio, a Latino Republican political hero widely considered a vice presidential contender, who recently criticized the president for not reaching out to him on immigration reform since he was elected.

"My door has been open for three and a half years. They know where to find me," he said.