SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court's divided ruling on Arizona's illegal-immigration law, and said he wished the court had approached the issue differently.
In a ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a requirement that police check the immigration status of anyone they stop, rejecting the Obama administration's stance that only the U.S. government should enforce immigration laws.
But the court also ruled that three other provisions in the Arizona law went too far in intruding on federal law, including one making it a crime for illegal immigrants to work and another requiring them to carry their documents.
In his first comment in person on the ruling, Romney said he would have liked to have seen a different approach.
"The Supreme Court ruling, given the failure of the immigration policy of this country, I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to states, not less," he told donors in Arizona.
Romney, who endorsed the Arizona law while seeking his party's presidential nomination, has struggled to address immigration policy, a hot-button issue in campaigning for the November 6 election and a particular concern of Hispanics, a fast-growing segment of the U.S. voting population.
The issue is a difficult one for a candidate who must balance the need to appeal to new immigrants like many Latinos and Asians and a desire to please conservative Republicans who feel that U.S. immigration policy should focus mostly on securing the border with Mexico.
"It's become a muddle. But it didn't have to be this way," Romney said.
"The president pronounced that in his first year he would take on immigration. He had a Democratic House, he had a Democratic Senate, but he didn't do it. Isn't it time for the American people to ask him why? Because he didn't act, state and local governments have had to act, the courts have got involved and it's a muddle."
An earlier written comment from Romney did not directly address the particulars of the law or the decision. Romney campaign aides also resolutely declined to comment on the specifics of the Arizona law in the wake of the ruling.
Romney's statement called the immigration issue a "broken promise" by Obama.
"I believe that each state has the duty - and the right - to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities," Romney said.
Polls show Obama enjoys up to a 3-to-1 advantage over Romney among Hispanic voters.
Romney has worked to make the case that immigration is not the only issue that Hispanics care about, contending that his plans to improve the economy would benefit Latinos as well as other Americans.
But immigration has often been at the center of the campaign. Even before the Supreme Court's ruling, Obama announced on June 15 a surprise policy change that will allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought into the United States as children to avoid being shipped home.
Seeking to appeal to his party's right wing, Romney took a hard line against illegal immigration during the Republican primary elections, including saying he felt the Arizona law would be a good model for the country as a whole. He has not offered a detailed immigration plan of his own.
Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by David Brunnstrom