WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought to assure Hispanic Americans on Monday that he will not abandon his efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration policy or preserve government financial support for education.
Congress narrowly failed last year to pass the "Dream Act," which would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
The vote was a bitter disappointment to many Latin Americans, the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States and an increasingly important voting bloc.
"We have to have a pathway for citizenship for those who are just looking for a better life and contributing to our country, and I'll continue to fight for that," Obama said, to applause from a crowd at a Washington, D.C., school.
Obama's "town hall" in English and Spanish -- Obama used a translator -- sponsored by a Spanish-language television network, was part of a White House campaign to make the case that spending on education is essential to the future of the United States as Obama and his Democrats try to negotiate a budget deal with Congressional Republicans.
Republicans want to cut $61 billion in spending during the year ending September 30, and Democrats argue that the rival party's plans would cut a variety of essential programs, including education.
Obama addressed the issue when he was asked about how much the country spends on the military, compared with what it devotes to education, especially in light of the new U.S. military action in Libya.
"Our involvement there is going to be limited both in time and in scope," said Obama, who was to make a speech to the nation at 7:30 p.m. EDT/2330 GMT on Monday about Libya.
"But you're absolutely right that we have a very large defense budget. Some of that is necessitated by the size of our country and the particular special role that we play around the globe," he said. "But what is true is that over the last 10 years, the defense budget was going up much more quickly than our education budget."
Obama then repeated his contention that his budget would increase education spending, despite the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Eric Walsh)