WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) -- With frustration mounting, President Barack Obama sought Thursday to quell doubts he'll use his presidential powers to act on immigration, telling Hispanics and immigration activists it's "not a question of if but when."
At the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's annual gala, Obama warned activists that his eventual actions will spark intense political opposition that could threaten the durability of what he does. In a partisan pitch a month before Election Day, he urged Hispanics across the U.S. to use their votes to improve prospects in the future for a legislative fix.
The president was reportedly interrupted twice by an audience member, identified as "undocumented activist" Blanca Hernandez, during his speech. Both times she yelled, "We need relief now," as she objected to deportations under Obama.
"If anybody wants to know where my heart is, or whether I want to have this fight, let me put those questions to rest right now: I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done," Obama said.
Hernandez was reportedly escorted out by security.
With a Secret Service Agent in the foreground, President Barack Obama speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 37th Annual Awards Gala at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Once hailed as a champion for Hispanic rights, Obama's relationship with the Hispanic community has become strained since he decided last month to abandon his earlier pledge to act quickly after summer's end to help some immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Instead, he said he'd wait until after the Nov. 4 elections, exasperating immigration activists who accused the president of putting politics ahead of their families and said they had waited far too long already.
With the elections nearing, Obama sought to parlay impatience into motivation for Hispanic voters to elect politicians who will enact more sweeping reforms to fix the U.S. immigration system. Arguing that no executive action on immigration could be as comprehensive as what Congress could do, he urged Hispanics at the black-tie dinner to go into their communities to ensure voters don't stay home.
"Yes we can - if we vote," he said, first in Spanish and then in English, in a twist on his 2008 campaign slogan.
The White House has been coy about what unilateral actions Obama and his administration are considering, and legal experts differ about just how far Obama can go without Congress. Immigration activists are calling for Obama to act aggressively to free a sizeable portion of the 11.5 million immigrants here illegally from fear of deportation.
President Barack Obama speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 37th Annual Awards Gala at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama addresses the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 37th annual awards gala in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
The crowd surges toward President Barack Obama, bottom left, as he greets people after speaking at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 37th Annual Awards Gala at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Such a possibility has incensed Republicans who say Obama's willingness to ignore existing laws is the key reason they're reluctant to work with him to pass new ones.
"The president's promise isn't about making the best policy or enforcing the law - it's an admission that his pledge to not uphold the law in the future would be bad for his party now," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
A supportive crowd offered the president a mostly warm reception, although a group of demonstrators gathered outside the convention center in protest of Obama's delay.
And at the podium, Obama was gently nudged by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who said Hispanics were looking to Obama "for big, bold, unapologetic" relief without delay.
"We need major reforms, we need them now," he said, "and Mr. President, we need your help."
(H/T: Huffington Post)