CARTAGENA President Barack Obama attacked Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Saturday over his stance on illegal immigrants and promised to pursue broad immigration reform if he wins another term.
On a three-day visit to Colombia for a summit with Latin American leaders, Obama is hoping to court Hispanic voters back home whose support could be crucial to him in the November 6 election.
The Democratic president wants to fight an impression that he has neglected Latin America and failed to push hard enough on comprehensive immigration reform.
Obama said in an interview with Univision that Romney's support of Arizona's tough immigration law was "very troublesome."
"We now have a Republican nominee who said that the Arizona laws are a model for the country," Obama said, referring to Republican front-runner Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
"These are laws that potentially would allow someone to be stopped and picked up and asked where their citizenship papers are based on an assumption," Obama said in the interview, which was taped in Cartagena on Friday.
The Arizona law, signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2010, calls on state and local police to check the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally and to pursue deportation aggressively.
Pressed on whether he would promise to move forward on immigration reform quickly if he gets re-elected, Obama blamed Republicans for the inaction so far and added, "I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term. I want to try this year."
Obama enjoys a big advantage with Latino voters, who tend to favor Democratic candidates and backed him by a margin of two-to-one in his 2008 race against Republican John McCain.
However, Obama hopes to avoid any erosion of support from these voters in battleground states like Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, where Latinos make up a large portion of the population.
(This has been refiled to fix typo in paragraph three)
(Reporting By Caren Bohan and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Eric Walsh)