President Barack Obama was heckled Monday by an immigration activist as he spoke about comprehensive immigration reform at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco's Chinatown. The president is on a West Coast fundraising tour for House and Senate Democrats and the national party.
While Obama was urging Congress to complete the overhaul of immigration laws, a man in the audience raised his voice to challenge Obama on his deportation record, calling for the president to use executive action to stop the more than 1,000 daily deportations.
“You have the power to stop deportation,” the man said. He was joined by others, shouting, "stop deportation."
“Actually, I don’t,” the president replied. Obama later added that he respects the passion young people are showing on the issue because it shows they care deeply about their families. However, the president reminded people that he cannot solve every problem without getting laws out of Congress.
"The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws," Obama said. "What I'm proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won't be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done."
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Obama reinforced his commitment to proponents of reform, saying that he is committed to marching and fighting with them.
“It is going to require work," the president said. "It is not a matter of us saying, ‘We are going to violate that law.’ … Ultimately justice and truth win out."
The momentum for reform has been strong among activists, who have praised the Senate for passing its 2013 immigration reform bill in June. That measure includes a 13-year earned path to citizenship as well as an increase in border security. But the proposal has been dead in the House of Representatives for almost five months now, as Republicans said they will neither go to conference with the upper chamber nor bring the legislation to the floor without a majority of their members in support.
“It’s long past time to fix our broken immigration system,” Obama said before he was interrupted. “We need to make sure Washington finishes the job that so many of you Americans started. We need to finish the job.”
The president said the only thing standing in the way of reform legislation is Republican resistance. He also told immigrants and labor leaders who are fasting for reform that their voices are being heard.
“We have kicked this particular can down the road long enough, and everybody knows it," Obama said.
Obama reiterated to Republicans that he isn't concerned about the procedures they use to draft reform legislation that suits their caucus, as long as it includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
"We can't leave this problem for another generation to solve," he said. "Rather than create problems let's prove Congress can get something done."
The White House and Democrats have been trying to regain momentum lost over the last two months because of the wobbly Oct. 1 roll out of the Affordable Care Act enrollment website. Bugs and glitches have prevented millions of Americans from signing up for health insurance. In the ensuing brouhaha, immigration was cast aside.
But the administration is hoping the narrative changes by month's end. Working with a self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline, the administration hopes to have HealthCare.gov working again, and reportedly able to handle 50,000 users at once. That would ease the flood of continued criticism of the law and allow the focus to return to immigration.
"Everybody wins if we get [immigration reform] done," Obama said. "There is no reason why we shouldn't get this done. If there's a good reason I haven't heard it."
If Republicans don't want to reform done, he added, then they should explain why.