President Obama speaks to the National Council of La Raza during their annual… (Olivier Douliery, Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — President Obama defended his deportation policies and said Republicans remain an obstacle to overhauling the immigration system to give illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status.
Speaking at a conference of Latino leaders Monday, Obama said that he and fellow Democrats are working to enact laws that would resolve the status of about 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
Obama's comments seemed aimed at defusing criticism that he has not done enough to change immigration law. When he ran for office in 2008, Obama said he would deal with the issue in his first year. But that promise was deferred while the healthcare overhaul got top priority, and at this point it's doubtful he can pass a bill until after the 2012 elections.
Blaming GOP intransigence, Obama said, "I need a dance partner here — and the floor is empty."
In the absence of new legislation, some congressional Democrats are urging the president to retool deportation policies using executive authority.
Obama addressed the controversy at the conference, which was sponsored by the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. "Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own," he said.
At that, the audience began chanting, "Yes you can!" — a twist on Obama's 2008 campaign slogan.
"Believe me — believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting, I promise you. Not just on immigration reform," the president said. "But that's not how our system works."
Conference leaders said they sent invitations to Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman Jr., Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty and got no answers or were turned down.