Human prop turns into protester at Obama immigration speech

7:28 AM, Nov 26, 2013   |    comments
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President Barack Obama speaks at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center on November 25, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO -- President Barack Obama learned a lesson Monday afternoon in San Francisco: sometimes those ordinary citizens his aides line up behind him while he speaks don't do what they're supposed to do.

Obama was speaking in Chinatown about the need for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform when a young man, standing only three rows behind him -- in view of C-Span's cameras -- interrupted his speech.

"Stop deportations!" the young man yelled.

The heckler went on for a bit, and then Obama turned around and acknowledged this bit of unscripted dissent.

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As he often does when interrupted by protesters -- who usually demand action on climate change -- Obama said he respected "the passion of young people." And he asked that the protester not be removed.

Instead, he directed his words directly to the heckler.

The president said if he could solve all of the problems created by America's broken immigration system without needing Congress to act, he would do so.

"But we're also a nation of laws," Obama said.

"The easy way out," he said is to yell and pretend the president could do something by violating federal law, he said.

But he can't do that. The only way to fix the nation's immigration system -- and keep families from being separated by deportations -- is the democratic process, Obama said.

That "won't be as easy as shouting," he said. It requires the hard work of lobbying Congress, and overcoming opposition to immigration reform from some House Republicans "who think it's bad politics bad home."

"To those of you who are committed to getting this done, I'm going to march with you and fight with you every step of the way," Obama said.

It was perhaps Obama's most effective response to a heckler yet.

Too bad it's for a lost cause, at least this year. The House will only be in session for two weeks when in returns to Washington, D.C., Dec. 3 after its Thanksgiving break. Immigration reform is the last thing it plans to take up in this limited time frame.

Instead, House Speaker John Boehner only offers vague assurances that immigration reform is "absolutely not" dead, but he won't provide any timetable for when the House will vote on it.

"I"m hopeful we can make progress on this very important issue," Boehner said last Thursday.

But Boehner already has rejected going to conference with the Senate to take up that chamber's comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path for citizenship for people who are in the U.S. illegally. Instead, House committees are working on separate bills that address various aspects of immigration reform, including stepped-up enforcement of existing laws and expanded visas for high-skilled workers. The House could pass some of these bills next year, but don't expect a path to citizenship to be included in the House's immigration agenda. Too many House Republicans vehemently oppose that.

Obama tried to put a good face on what's happening in the House, by highlighting Boehner's statements.

"I believe he genuinely wants to get it done," Obama said.

Plus, Obama said he's open to the House approach of passing immigration reform on a step-by-step basis, as long as all the elements needed for a fair system are passed soon.

"It's Thanksgiving -- we can carve that bird into multiple pieces," Obama said.

Some immigration reform advocates were not encouraged by Obama's accommodating approach.

Obama "must keep demanding that GOP leadership in the House move forward immediately, and we urge him to push for a comprehensive bill rather than support a piecemeal approach, which would not achieve the critical reform needed to ensure a pathway to citizenship, treat women fairly and keep families together," said Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of We Belong Together. "Anything less is not acceptable."

(Atlanta Business Chronicle)

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