President Obama on Thursday urged frustrated Latinos to stick by his side, fervently vowing to act on his own to slow deportations by the end of the year.
But the growing disillusionment among Hispanic activists over the president’s decision to delay action was evident when a heckler interrupted him during his speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala in Washington.
“If anyone wants to know where my heart is or if I want to have this fight, let me put those questions to rest right now,” Obama told the audience. “I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done.”
The protester, identified by organizers as Blanca Hernandez, 31, seconds later shouted, “Mr. President, stop the deportations. We need relief now.”
Hernandez, who works as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., received a reprieve from deportation from Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Obama tried to quiet Hernandez, saying “I’m about to get to that,” then touted his record on immigration. He stressed that his DACA program has benefitted over 600,000 young undocumented immigrants. Obama rode to the speech with two DACA recipients who are interns on Capitol Hill, Luis Alcauter and Victor Mena, the White House said.
Activists have pressured Obama to expand that type of relief to millions more undocumented immigrants. The president’s decision to put off action until after the midterm elections will result in thousands more deportations, advocacy groups say. Protesters also demonstrated outside the location of the gala in downtown Washington.
Before Obama took the stage, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) urged the president to act “immediately” to enact broader deportation relief.
“We look to you, Mr. President, for big, bold, unapologetic administrative relief,” said the senator, who has pressured Obama for months.
Obama attempted to quell any doubts over his willingness to act, reiterating that an order would be handed down between the November midterm elections and the end of the year.
“This is not a question of if, but when,” he said.
The president also addressed critics who have urged Latinos not to vote for Democrats in the fall due to inaction on immigration reform.
“I’m going to need you to have my back,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that no matter how bold I go, nothing I can do will be as lasting and comprehensive as the Senate [immigration] bill.”
Voting in the midterm elections and electing Democrats to Congress will improve the chances that immigration reform becomes law, Obama said.
“Sí se puede, si votamos,” he said. “Yes we can, if we vote.”