DETROIT (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden told protesters Thursday he shared their concern about the deportations of immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally.
Biden was interrupted by protesters shouting, "Stop deporting our families," during a speech at Netroots Nation, a major annual meeting of liberal activists. The vice president said, "I respect your view and I share your view."
"We should clap for those young people," Biden said. "Can you imagine? Can you imagine the pain, the anxiety of coming home every day wondering whether or not your mother or father will still be there?"
The Obama administration has been seeking $3.7 billion in emergency border spending to deal with a surge of young Central American migrants at the South Texas border. The White House has sought comprehensive immigration reform and faced criticism from immigration groups over a large number of deportations in recent years.
It was unclear if the protesters were raising concerns over deportations of the recent influx of the young Central American immigrants or the broader number of deportations during Obama's presidency. Biden's office said the vice president was sympathizing with people who are concerned about the separation of families.
Biden credited the role of immigration in the nation, telling the audience that the newcomers "fuel America's dynamism" and the nation needs a "rational policy."
Biden, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, spoke after juggling phone calls with Ukraine's president and members of Obama's national security team in response to a passenger jet being shot down in Ukraine. He earlier headlined a fundraiser for the Michigan Democratic Party and visited a local community college classroom where minority women learned software programming skills.
During his 47-minute speech to liberal activists, Biden spoke at length of his support for gay marriage, efforts to address income inequality and the administration's work to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the administration's highest priority is restoring the American "bargain" where the wealthy, middle class and poor benefit in a growing economy.
The vice president promoted his record as a model for liberal Democrats who have sometimes expressed unhappiness with the pace of change during Obama's tenure.
"I don't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to fighting some of the toughest progressive battles the country has seen," said Biden, who said he was "flattered" that Progress Now Executive Director Arshad Hasan, who introduced him to the crowd in downtown Detroit, credited Biden for declaring his support for gay marriage in 2012, three days before Obama also did so.
"The credit really goes to the (LGBT) community. As more and more of you all had the courage ... to come out, average Americans began to understand who you were," he said.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the dominant force in early presidential polling but has not yet decided whether she will seek the White House again. Biden has said there is no reason for him not to run for president but polls show he would face an uphill battle in a potential primary campaign against the former first lady.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberals', will speak at the conference on Friday.
"She's first rate, she's a solid person," Biden said to applause.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.