By Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told Hispanic voters on Monday he would keep fighting to make the U.S. immigration system fairer and blamed Republicans for the impasse that has kept him from achieving reforms he promised.
Addressing the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group in the United States, the Democratic president said he and his party were committed to doing more to help aspiring Americans and their children.
"I will keep up this fight," he said, telling the cheering crowd he understood the "real pain and heartbreak" caused by deportations and the problems undocumented workers face.
"We have a system that separates families, and punishes innocent young people for their parents' actions by denying them the chance to earn an education or contribute to our economy or serve in our military," he said.
Immigration reform will be a key issue in the 2012 election for Hispanics, the largest and fastest-growing U.S. minority group. They backed Obama by a two-to-one margin in 2008.
"The Democrats and your president are with you. Don't get confused about that. Remember who it is that we need to move in order to actually change the laws," he said.
Obama promised to have an immigration bill in Congress within his first year in office, but that did not materialize as he turned his attention to healthcare reform, an economic stimulus package and other issues.
In another disappointment, he failed last year to secure the Dream Act, which would have given a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
Many Hispanic voters are fiscal conservatives, meaning they could be receptive to Republican criticism of Obama's economic record and of the swollen U.S. budget deficits and debt load.
The Hispanic community was hard hit by the recession, with a jobless rate that remains well above the national average.
Obama stressed his interest in having construction workers repair older roads and airports to get the U.S. economy revved up again and suggested an immigration overhaul yielding better rules for students and entrepreneurs could help spur growth.
"One in six new small business owners are immigrants. These are job creators who came here to seek opportunity and now seek to share opportunity," he said.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)