CHICAGO (AP) — Taking on the hecklers who've been interrupting his speeches lately, President Barack Obama argued back Tuesday with a point-by-point rebuttal of their arguments and suggested they "get the facts."
Obama had traveled home to Chicago for an appearance aimed at broadening the appeal of his recent executive actions on immigration beyond the predominantly Latino population that lobbied heavily for relief. He visited a community center in a predominantly Polish-American neighborhood.
About midway through his remarks, three protesters strategically placed around the auditorium rose and began criticizing his deportation policy, saying he hasn't just been deporting criminals. "You have been deporting families," one heckler shouted. A woman among the group of people seated on stage behind Obama stood up and held a sign that said "Obama Stop Deportations Now," with the word 'now' in red.
Obama listened. He sympathized. He asked them to stop yelling. Then when it appeared he'd had enough, the former lawyer and former constitutional law professor set about deconstructing their arguments.
"What you're not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law, so that's point No. 1," Obama said. "Point No. 2, the way the change in the law works is that we're reprioritizing how we enforce our immigration laws generally."
"The point is that though I understand why you might have yelled at me a month ago, although I disagree with some of your characterizations, it doesn't make much sense to yell at me right now when we're making changes," he said as the audience of approximately 1,800 people applauded.
"But the point is, let's make sure that you get the facts and that you know exactly what we're doing," Obama said. He directed them to appeal to the immigration advocacy groups the administration has worked with on the issue if they still disagree with his policies.
"What won't work is folks just shouting at each other," he said. "I've been respectful. I responded to your question. I'd ask you now to let me speak to all the other people who are here. All right?"
A heckler interrupted Obama last Friday in Las Vegas, where he discussed immigration the day after outlining the changes in a nationally televised prime-time address. The announcement inflamed Republicans, who have vowed to rein in Obama but have not fallen behind any specific plan.
At issue is the extent of Obama's executive actions, which make nearly 5 million immigrants eligible to be spared from deportation. The measures would apply to parents of U.S. citizens or of legal permanent residents. The parents would have to have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Obama also expanded a program designed to extend deportation protections to immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children.
But in a blow to some immigrant activists, Obama did not provide protections for parents of such young immigrants who are known as Dreamers.
In the speech, Obama praised the contributions to the U.S. by a broad patchwork of immigrants. He cited studies showing that immigrants open one-fourth of all new U.S. businesses and that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
"Being a nation of immigrants gives us this huge entrepreneurial advantage over other nations," he said.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.