The Obama administration's new rules allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the United States while seeking legal status have antagonized congressional Republicans but are likely to win the president support among Hispanic voters turned off by a record number of deportations under his watch.
Yet, amid a spate of recent executive orders implementing changes Congress refused to support, President Obama is facing mounting criticism from Republicans that he is a go-it-alone executive -- an attack that intensified after he issued the new immigration rules that are loathed by conservatives who dismissed them as politically motivated.
Obama's path to re-election victory in swing states like Florida and Arizona certainly would be more difficult without the overwhelming Hispanic support he received in 2008.
In recent months, the president has traveled to Puerto Rico, given a speech along the Texas-Mexico border and conducted a series of White House meetings with high-profile Hispanics and celebrities, with each event intended to remind Hispanic voters that Obama is sympathetic to their causes.
In private conversations with White House aides, though, Matt Barreto, a pollster with Latino Decisions, said administration officials lament that Obama's efforts "weren't getting more credit" from Hispanic voters, particularly the Justice Department's legal challenge to Arizona's harsh immigration law.
"They have an opportunity here," Barreto said. "But they need to take this message very publicly to the Latino community. I think they've had a problem promoting their initiatives."
The rule change allows illegal immigrants seeking legal status to stay in the country if they have a spouse or parent already living in the United States legally. U.S. law previously required immigrants to return to their native country and apply for legal status, separating many from families in the United States for at least three years.
Hispanic advocates said, however, that none of Obama's initiatives are an adequate substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform then-candidate Obama promised in 2008 but has yet to deliver.
"These are administrative changes -- trying to buy some good will with the Latino community," said Alfonso Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. "The problem is it's still not comprehensive. I think Latinos can see through it."
Obama counters that congressional Republicans blocked his immigration proposals at every turn, forcing him to resort to executive orders and ruining the prospects for comprehensive reforms.
Still, Obama has yet to make a serious push for such measures on Capitol Hill despite calling for heightened border security and easing the path to citizenship for those here illegally.
In a presidential election dominated by economic issues, illegal immigration has emerged as a litmus test for Republican candidates, and GOP White House contenders were quick to pounce on the policy.
"We're not sending these people to jail, we're sending them home," said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. "We're giving them an opportunity to eventually come back in this country, if they do so the right way. I don't see that as harsh."
But the challenge for Republicans is whether they can placate conservatives without going so far to the right that they alienate Hispanic voters in the race against Obama.
Hispanic voters, less supportive of the president than four years ago, are still more likely to vote for Obama next November, if they vote at all, polls show.