President Barack Obama, renewing his call Monday for the House to pass immigration legislation, engaged in a feisty exchange with a heckler demanding that the president stop deportations.
"You have a power to stop deportation," one man yelled during the president's immigration speech in San Francisco, before he led a chant of "stop deportation," The Washington Times reported
"Actually," Obama replied, "I don’t, and that's why we are here."
As security moved to toss out the protester, Obama stopped them.
"These guys don't need to go. Let me finish," he urged. "No, no, he can stay there."
The president had come to a community center in the city's Chinatown to deliver his speech, using stories of Asian immigrants, including the parents of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, as well as recently arrived technological entrepreneurs.
Obama said he thought House Speaker John Boehner was serious about achieving some change, adding he wouldn't oppose the House taking a piecemeal approach
to immigration legislation rather than doing it in a comprehensive bill.
"When it comes to immigration reform, we have to have the confidence to believe we can get this done, and we should get it done," Obama said. "The only thing standing in our way right now is the unwillingness of certain Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country."
The heckler said his family had been separated by deportation. But Obama told the protester — who later identified himself to reporters as Ju Hong, 24, The Wall Street Journal reported
— that he couldn't take direct action without the cooperation of Congress.
"The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws," Obama told the man. "And 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."
Almost 12 million immigrants live in the United States illegally, says the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, the Journal reported. The Obama administration has been deporting about 400,000 immigrants annually, more than the Bush administration.
Obama — who's issued directives halting deportations for certain favored categories, such as families of troops and veterans — said he can't halt them all.
"If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing the laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we're also a nation of laws, that's part of our tradition," he said, the Washington Times reported.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, of Costa Mesa, Calif., the senior House Republican in the state, objected that a comprehensive bill would allow those in the country illegally to gain legal status.
"There are all kinds of things we can do to reform the system to make it better, but that doesn't include legalizing the status of people who have come here illegally," Rohrabacher told The Journal.
Republican House members David Valadao and Jeff Denham have signed onto a House immigration bill drafted by Democrats that is similar to the Senate bill. Both hail from heavily Latino districts in California's agricultural Central Valley.
The only other House Republican to publicly back that bill is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
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