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Heckled on immigration, Obama says won't act unilaterally

U.S. President Barack Obama kisses a member of the audience as he participates in a Democratic Party fundraiser in San Francisco November 25
U.S. President Barack Obama kisses a member of the audience as he participates in a Democratic Party fundraiser in San Francisco November 25

By Jeff Mason

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A speech by President Barack Obama aimed at putting pressure on the Congress to pass immigration reform was interrupted on Monday by a heckler unhappy with the deportation of undocumented people in the United States.

As Obama neared the end of the speech on immigration reform at the Betty Ong Chinese Recreation Center, a young man standing on the riser behind the president began to shout over him.

"Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country right now," the man said, as people next to him turned to look.

Obama tried to continue, but the man kept going.

"You have the power to stop deportation for all of them," he yelled.

"Actually, no, I don't," the president said, turning to address him, as several others joined in, chanting, "Stop deportation now."

While the president is sometimes heckled by audience members at speeches, it is unusual for the interruption to come from one of the people allowed to stand as a backdrop for him while he speaks.

As event organizers sought to remove the young man from the stand, Obama waved them off.

"I respect the passion of these young people," he said. "If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so."

"The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws," he said. "And what I'm proposing is taking the harder path and using our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve."

The president held out hope in his speech that immigration reform legislation that has passed the Senate but is stuck in the Republican-led House of Representatives has a chance of being signed into law.

Obama pointed to a remark by House Speaker John Boehner that some progress on immigration reform is possible.

"That is good news," the president said. "I believe the speaker is sincere. I think he genuinely wants to get it done."

However, for many of Obama's supporters, the possibility that immigration reform could wither on the vine is hard to take, and for one person listening to the president on Monday, that feeling boiled over.

"I've not seen my family, " he said. "I need your help."

Obama said: "That's - that's exactly what we're talking about here."

(Writing by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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