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Lake Buena Vista - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to make up ground with Hispanic voters on Thursday, promising a long-term solution to allow young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, but offering just a few minor immigration proposals.
After days of struggling for a clear message on the issue, Romney directly addressed the deportation of immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents.
That topic dominated the campaign agenda after President Barack Obama last week announced an executive order that will allow hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people to avoid being shipped home.
“Some people have asked if I will let stand the president's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure,” Romney told several hundred Hispanic public officials.
His appearance at a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials was greeted with tepid applause and a few scattered boos.
Romney, who took a hard line on illegal immigration during the Republican primaries, accused Obama of taking Hispanics for granted ahead of the November 6 presidential election.
“He failed to act until facing a tough re-election and trying to secure your vote,” he said.
Romney spoke a day before Obama addresses the same Hispanic group.
The speech presented a challenge to Romney, who took a hard stance against illegal immigration during the primaries and has struggled since to articulate a policy that appeals to Hispanics while keeping conservatives happy.
Polls show Obama has a big lead among Hispanics.
Obama “finally offered a temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election,” Romney said of the White House executive order.
It was Romney's first address to a major Hispanic group since a May speech where he raised eyebrows by avoiding the topic of immigration.
Romney offered a half-dozen modest proposals, including raising the limits on immigrants from some specific countries, streamlining the temporary worker visa programme and re-allocating green cards to family of citizens and legal permanent residents.
“As president, I won't settle for a stop-gap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution,” Romney told the conference.
“I will prioritise measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner,” he said.
Polls show Obama has a strong advantage of about 75 percent to 25 percent over Romney among Latino voters.
In the 2008 election, Obama captured 67 percent of the vote to Republican rival John McCain's 31 percent.
Romney had been expected to discuss immigration at a speech to a Latino business group in Washington last month but he instead talked about education. - Reuters