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The Romney campaign has argued that Hispanic voters won’t vote chiefly on immigration issues, but rather on the kinds of pocketbook issues the candidate is highlighting.

Still, the issue of immigration loomed large for this crowd.

Speaking to NALEO before the president, Mr. Rubio said some in both parties are using the immigration issue to win votes, but don’t really want solutions.

“There are too many people that have concluded that this issue unresolved is more powerful. They want it to stay unresolved,” he said.

He had been working on a Republican version of the Dream Act that would have granted a legal status but not a path to citizenship to illegal immigrant students and young adults.

Mr. Romney had previously had kind words for that type of plan — though on Thursday he only talked about one specific category, saying he would grant citizenship rights to any illegal immigrant who joins the U.S. military.

Hispanic activists for years had been pressuring Mr. Obama to take unilateral action to halt deportations. Mr. Obama had repeatedly declined, saying he didn’t have the authority to do so.

But last Friday he reversed course and said he did have the authority, issuing a categorical stay of deportation — though each case will be reviewed independently — for those under 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children, who have completed high school or earned a GED, and who don’t have felonies or multiple misdemeanors on their records.

Activists here said the decision earned Mr. Obama some much-needed credibility after three years of relatively little action. Still, they noted his administration continues to set records for deportations.

During Mr. Obama’s tenure immigration authorities have deported nearly 1.4 million people, which activists here said is a dubious record.