Obama: Lack of immigration reform, not unemployment, is biggest failure

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama told an Hispanic audience today that his “biggest mistake” was not passing a large-scale amnesty of illegal immigrants.

The statement comes amid a continuing decline in the percentage of Americans who are working, and amid a rapid increase in government debt to $16 trillion.

“My biggest failure is that we haven’t got comprehensive immigration reform done … but it was not for lack of trying or desire,” Obama told his mostly Hispanic audience during the hour-long town hall meeting organized by the Spanish-language TV network, Univision.

The immigration issue is important for Obama, because he wants to maximize Hispanic support and turnout in November.

Obama and his campaign deputies want to maximize Hispanic support because he’s lost support from white voters who are worried about the stalled economy, high deficits and high unemployment.

Immigration reform is an important election-day factor for many Hispanics, even though new immigrants compete for jobs against established immigrants.

It is important because opposition to illegal Hispanic immigrants is seen as disrespectful by many Hispanics. Also, many Hispanic citizens and residents have close family or workplace ties ties to illegal immigrants.

Obama’s focus on immigration came after the the Univision interviewers grilled him for failing to fulfill his campaign promise to get what conservatives consider an amnesty, which is dubbed by supporters as “comprehensive immigration reform.”

“You actually broke your promise,” said co-host Maria Elena Salinas.

Obama blamed the GOP for the failure to pass reform, even though Obama had majorities in the House and Senate until early 2010.

“I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years, and the most important lesson that you can’t change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside,” he said, while asking Hispanics to support his re-election campaign.

Obama also cited his July decision to defer deportation of perhaps 1.7 million younger illegal aliens.

That decision has been slammed as illegal and destructive by GOP legislators.

The decision provides work permits to at least 800,000 working-age illegals, despite very high unemployment rates among low-skilled Americans.

“I have never wavered in my support of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said, adding that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would pressure illegals to leave the country.

Romney “suggested the main solution for immigration is self-deportation,” Obama said.

Obama’s Univision statement came a few days after a videotape of Romney showed him suggesting that 47 percent of voters support Democratic politicians in exchange for government payments. Romney’s crude conflation of election strategy and political analysis has spurred criticism from conservatives and progressives.

Obama’s immigration comments also followed his Sept. 18 “Letterman Show” appearance, during which he said he does not know how much the government owes its creditors.

“I don’t remember what the number was precisely … however, we don’t have to worry about it short term,” he told David Letterman.

During the Sept. 20 Univision interview, Obama said the immigration failure was his greatest mistake, even though unemployment among Americans has reached record levels.

The formal unemployment rate has remained above 8.1 percent throughout Obama’s term.

Millions more Americans have dropped out of the workforce, and millions more are working part-time jobs. GOP leaders, including Romney, say 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

The unemployment rate is higher among low-skill workers.

Roughly half of black men between 18 and 30 do not have full-time jobs, according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At least 10.1 percent of working-age Hispanics are unemployed. Twenty-nine percent of Hispanics aged 16 to 19 who want a job can’t find a job.

Unemployment among university graduates is also very high. For example, in 2011, 54 percent of bachelor-degree graduates aged 25 or under were unemployed or underemployed, according to an April study by academics at Northwestern University.

Overall, unemployment is so high that four times as many people dropped out of the workforce in August as gained jobs.

The high unemployment rate has persisted despite Obama’s support for the 2009 stimulus — which cost roughly $819 billion — and massive deficit spending of more than $1 trillion per year.

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