In a speech to a skeptical audience of Latino leaders outside Orlando Thursday, Mitt Romney offered few specific on hot-button immigration policies but said he could be a compelling alternative to President Barack Obama.
The presumptive GOP nominee told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials he would streamline the process for family members of legal immigrants to enter the country, and would adjust upward the caps on immigration and temporary visa allocations for some countries.
But Romney skirted the headline issue this month: Obama's recently announced order that would effectively allow the children of some undocumented workers a path to legal status.
Romney criticized the president's move as being "temporary" and a nakedly political calculation, while not detailing how he would propose to address those illegal immigrants afforded temporary status under Obama's new policy.
"Last week, the President finally offered a temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election," he told the Latino leaders seated around tables in a cavernous ballroom. "As President, I won't settle for stop-gap measures. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution."
Romney's speech, given one day before President Barack Obama was to address the same group, took aim at the incumbent Democrat for failing to turn around the economy.
"This isn't an election about being a Republican, Democrat, or an independent. This is an election about the future of America," he said. "Is the America of 11% Hispanic unemployment the America of our dreams? We can do better."
The Latino leaders in the audience listened politely to Romney's speech, but the response was markedly less enthusiastic than what the GOP candidate has enjoyed at many of his recent events.
Romney took a hard line stance on immigration throughout the Republican primary season. He promised to veto the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants.
"The question is if I were elected and Congress were to pass the DREAM Act, would I veto it and the answer is yes," Romney said in Iowa last December.
In recent months, Romney has softened that view, indicating he might be open to a Republican version of the DREAM Act that was being drafted by rising GOP star, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Earlier this week, Rubio's office said the senator had shelved the proposal in response to the president's move on deportations.
In a statement, the Obama campaign immediately circled back to Romney's pledge to veto the DREAM Act.
"After seven days of refusing to say whether or not he'd repeal the Obama administration's immigration action that prevents young people who were brought here through no fault of their own as children from being deported, we should take [Romney] at his word that he will veto the DREAM Act as president," said Obama for America Director of Hispanic press Gabriela Domenzain.
In a policy session at the conference just hours before Romney's scheduled speech, a labor organizer with the Service Employees International Union blasted Arizona's immigration law and other "copycat" laws across the country as legalizing "racial profiling." Romney has said he supports the Arizona law but does not see it as a model for the country.
Eliseo Medina, the Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, warned more Latino leaders will settle their differences over immigration policies at the voting booth in the fall.
"There will be many more of us in 2014, 2016, 2020 and on into the future," Medina said.
While some Republican leaders are adamantly opposed to any effort to provide a path to legal status for the undocumented, other GOP lawmakers are looking to Romney for guidance.
"I think we're going to wait until we hear what Governor Romney has to say on this issue," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said earlier this week.
"There may be others behind me who want to address it. But my view, he is the leader of our party from now until November and we hope beyond," McConnell said.