President Barack Obama told a heckler Monday that if he could deal with immigration without going through Congress, he "would do so."
The heckler, just a few rows behind Obama as he spoke about immigration reform in San Francisco, demanded Obama “end deportation now.”
“I need your help. There are thousands,” the heckler said.
Obama responded, “That's exactly what we're talking about here.”
The heckler said, “Mr. President, please issue an executive order" and implored him, "you have the power to end.”
“Actually I don't," Obama responded.
Others in the audience joined the heckler in chanting “stop deportation.”
“I respect the passion of these young people because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families,” Obama said. “Now what you need to know, when I'm speaking as president of the United States, and I come to this community, is that if in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so.”
“But we're also a nation of laws, that's part of our tradition. And so, the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend that I can do something by violating our laws. 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.”
Obama supports a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would grant legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Supporters of the legislation call it a “pathway to citizenship,” while opponents say it amounts to amnesty. The bill, which passed the Senate but appears unlikely to pass the House before year's end, also has some border enforcement provisions.
Obama's discussion about separation of powers comes after he has faced criticism for executive overreach. Last year, the administration gave deferred enforcement to most illegal immigrants who came to the United States with their families as children.