President Obama Tells Hispanic Leaders at NALEO Conference He Will Fight for Immigration Reform

President Barack Obama speaks at The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Annual Conference at the Walt Disney World Resort, Friday, June 22, 2012, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (The Blaze/AP) – Appealing to Hispanic voters, President Barack Obama on Friday defended his decision to lift the threat of deportation for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, saying it gave them an overdue “sense of hope.” He challenged Republicans in Congress to join him finally on a big, broad fix of the U.S. immigration laws.

Also, if you enjoyed the president’s spontaneous Hispanic accent from his now-famous “chicanos” line in which he described which groups he hung out with in college, he brings the accent out again in his speech today and even speaks in Spanish a few times.

Obama tailored his re-election message of economic fairness and opportunity to his audience of Latino officials, addressing the group one day after Republican rival Mitt Romney did the same. Hispanic voters are a vital constituency in states that could swing the election, from Florida to Nevada to Virginia.

The president said the nation needs ideas and policies that build up the middle class and “our current immigration system doesn’t reflect those values.” The system punishes immigrants who play by the rules and drives away entrepreneurs who can get an education in America but cannot stay here legally, he said.

Obama spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials near Orlando, his first speech to a Hispanic group since he decreed that many young illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children would be exempted from deportation and granted work permits valid for two years

“It was the right thing to do,” Obama declared.

Obama slyly never mentioned Romney by name but referenced the GOP Presidential nominee’s speech given to the same group on Thursday, The Washington Times reports.

“He has promised to veto the Dream Act, and we should take him at his word,”Obama said. “Just sayin’.”

The president was reportedly greeted like a “hero” at the reception, drawing several standing ovations which seemingly confirms that Obama’s election-season shift in immigration policy is paying dividends to his reelection campaign.

“Viva Obama!” one man was heard shouting in the ballroom, the Washington Times reports.

Obama ended his speech with the Spanish phrase: “Si se puede,” meaning “Yes we can.” Some may remember the phrase.

Watch part one of Obama’s speech:

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Part two:

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Romney has attacked Obama’s new plan to ease deportation rules as little more than a “stopgap measure.” The president sought to seize on that criticism from Romney and Republicans in Congress by putting the onus on them.

“For those who are saying Congress should be the one to fix this, absolutely,” Obama said. “For those who say we should do this in a bipartisan fashion, absolutely. My door’s been open for three-and-a-half years. They know where to find me.”

This is a breaking story and updates will be added.