Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate to the White House, and John McCain, the Republican candidate, have clashed over their commitment to immigration reform.
The US must secure its borders, said Mr McCain, speaking at a conference of Hispanic officials in Washington.
Though Mr Obama admired John McCain’s attempt last year to get an immigration reform bill approved by Congress, he said that the Republican candidate had walked away from that commitment since.
John McCain was one of the few Republican senators to back President Bush’s comprehensive immigration plan, which contained an amnesty for some illegal immigrants.
Mr McCain paid his respects to hispanic-Americans, while speaking before some 700 Hispanics attending the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference.
“I know this country… would be the poorer were we deprived of the patriotism, industry and decency of those millions of Americans whose families came here from Mexico, Central and South America”, he said.
He added that, regarding immigration reform, his primary focus was to secure the United States border with Mexico.
“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”, he said.
“But that does not have to be done in an inhumane or cruel fashion”, he added.
Hecklers from anti-war groups have disrupted Mr McCain’s speech several times.
Later, Mr Obama appeared in front of the same audience and accused Mr McCain of walking away from comprehensive immigration reform.
‘A nation of immigrants’
“When he was running for his party’s nomination, he walked away from that commitment. He said he wouldn’t even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote”, Mr Obama said.
“If we are going to solve the challenges we face, we can’t vacillate, we can’t shift depending on our politics.”
“We must assert our values and reconcile our principles as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day”, he added.
Later, a statement has been issued by John McCain’s campaign team, saying that Barack Obama had worked to defeat last year’s reform attempt, by voting for amendments that the bill’s Democratic sponsors opposed.
Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado are some of the key states concentrating Hispanic votes.
President Bush won about 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, a Republican record. But recent elections have shown that the Hispanic vote has returned to its Democratic leanings.