U.S. President Barack Obama has defended his administration's record on immigration and advocated for his new job-creation proposal in an online roundtable discussion aimed at the Hispanic community.
The hour-long discussion, streamed live in English and dubbed in Spanish on the White House website Wednesday, is part of a push by the Obama administration to re-energize the support of groups that backed the president during the last election.
Mr. Obama told listeners he is trying enforce what he called the U.S.'s "inadequate" immigration laws in a "just and humane way." He said his administration is doing this in part by focusing its deportation efforts on violent criminals and not students and law-abiding workers.
He also responded to criticism that his administration has sharply increased the total number of deportations, saying the figures seem high because there is better enforcement at the border. Mr. Obama said many of the deportations include people caught and sent back while trying to cross the border, not people who have been living and working in the U.S.
The president said he continues to advocate a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration laws that would include strong border security, going after companies that hire and exploit undocumented workers, and creating a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. He blamed Republicans in Congress for blocking efforts to change the laws.
President Obama also used the hour-long discussion to continue campaigning for his $447 billion jobs bill, saying it would create employment for construction workers - including many Hispanics - laid off after the housing bubble burst. He also said the bill's education provisions will help train young Latinos to get good jobs when they enter the workforce.
The discussion featured questions posed by readers of several websites, including Yahoo, MSN Latino, and AOL Latino/Huffington Post Latino Voice.
Mr. Obama has in recent months been trying to maintain or win back support from the nation's 50 million Hispanics, whose votes he will need to win re-election in 2012. Some recent surveys have shown a drop in his approval rating among the group.
The online discussion is the second time this week Mr. Obama has addressed questions from an online audience. Monday, the president answered questions submitted on the social networking site LinkedIn, as part of a three-day, five-city campaign tour.