President Obama was in San Francisco’s Chinatown today, where he once again addressed immigration reform. Although Obama has long called for one comprehensive immigration reform bill, he’s now saying that he’s open to moving forward on piecemeal legislation. He made clear that reform is crucial, and that he’s willing to listen if there are any better ideas moving forward. The president covered familiar talking points about immigration—until 24-year-old Ju Hong disrupted him.
Obama compared a series of immigration reform bills to a Thanksgiving turkey—one that has different parts but is still whole. As he kept with the Thanksgiving and family dinner theme, Hong stood up, and began to question the president on his deportation record. Obama turned around and listened for a few seconds as more people joined in the disruption, screaming for the president to halt deportations. Obama’s administration has deported nearly two million people to date—a record for any president.
Speaking by phone to Colorlines directly after disrupting the speech, Hong explained that he took Obama’s words about being open to better ideas to heart. “He said he’s willing to listen to ideas, and here’s my idea: the president can use his executive power to halt the deportations of undocumented family members,” said Hong. “He has that power, but isn’t willing to use it.”
Hong was also upset that the president referenced Thanksgiving as a time when families can come together for dinner. “As a matter of fact, I cannot see my family this Thanksgiving because we’re separated—they’re in South Korea and I’m here and can’t leave because of my status,” he said. Hong added that he supports immigration reform, but that Obama has the power to halt deportations without legislation.
Although security attempted to escort Hong out, the president stopped them, saying he wanted Hong to stay in the audience. The president then condescendingly responded to Hong, claiming that yelling was an easy thing to do, but that using democratic processes to pass legislation is much harder. Obama also claimed it would be illegal for him to halt deportations. The president has already provided relief for different classes of undocumented immigrants however, most famously for young people.