USA - VOTE 2008

Obama, McCain court Latino voters

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain clashed over immigration policies to win over support from Latino voters. Obama accused McCain of backing away from the U.S. immigration reform under pressure from his party. (Report: L.Kammourieh)


Republican presidential hopeful John McCain and Democratic rival Barack Obama called for immigration reform on Saturday as they courted America's ever-growing Latino voting population.

The candidates spoke separately to a Hispanic group in Washington about the need for comprehensive reform to bring the country's 12 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows.

McCain and Obama both backed measures that were blocked by hardline Republicans in Congress that would have given undocument foreign workers a path toward citizenship.

But McCain, who had championed the reform bill despite opposition within his own party, has since said his focus was now to secure America's porous border with Mexico first.

"We will not succeed in the Congress of the United States until we convince a majority of the American people that we have border security," McCain said.

"But that does not have to be done in an inhumane or cruel fashion," he said, vowing to push for a temporary worker program again.

McCain, whose remarks were interrupted four times by anti-war protesters, said immigration reform was his "top priority yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

Obama, who spoke to the group shortly after McCain, criticized the Arizona senator for shifting his focus to border security.

"He said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote," Obama said. "And if we're going to solve the challenges we face, we can't vacillate. We can't shift depending on our politics."

"We haven't been serious in solving the problem," Obama said, vowing to make immigration reform "one of my priorities on my first day" at the White House.

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