President Barack Obama on Thursday slammed what he said was the growing "anti-immigrant sentiment" in American politics, in what was seen as an implicit criticism of several high-profile Republican presidential candidates.
Obama did not mention any candidate by name in his address to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, but he did denounce those in the Republican Party who are trying to reverse his efforts on immigration reform.
"There's nowhere they want to go further backwards than on immigration," said the president, who noted his administration's progress on reducing the Latino unemployment rate and providing more health care to the minority group.
Greatness 'doesn't come from walls'
Although he did not address him by name, Obama appeared to direct some of his comments at Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who has taken one of the toughest stances of any presidential candidate on illegal immigration.
"You've got to realize that America's greatness doesn't come from building walls, our greatness comes from opportunity," Obama said.
Trump, whose campaign slogan is "Make America Great Again," has vowed to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to stop illegal border crossings. He has also been criticized for making a series of disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants.
Clinton slams 'ugly rhetoric'
Speaking before Obama took the stage, Hillary Clinton, who is leading the polls in the Democratic Party presidential primary, also took aim at Trump.
"It's a problem when a leading Republican presidential candidate for president says that immigrants from Mexico are rapists and drug dealers," Clinton said.
"It's a problem when candidates use offensive terms like 'anchor babies' or even talk about changing the Constitution to take citizenship away from those who were born here.
"We need people who will stand up to this ugly rhetoric and extreme thinking, who will say with our words and our actions, basta, enough. End this," she said.
Some Republican presidential hopefuls, including Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, say they want to revoke so-called "birthright citizenship," which automatically grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., including the children of undocumented immigrants. The 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "All persons born . . . in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States.”
The statements by Trump, Cruz and some others have made it even more difficult for Republicans who are struggling to attract enough support from minorities, including Latinos, who overwhelmingly voted for Obama over his Republican rivals in the 2008 and 2012 elections.