SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- Seeking to move his domestic agenda away from the disappointments of health care reform, President Obama made another pitch for an immigration overhaul Monday, calling on lawmakers to restart an effort that stalled over the summer.
But even as he made his pitch at a recreation center serving mainly Chinese-Americans in San Francisco, Obama was loudly interrupted by a group who says the President's not doing enough to end deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Ju Hong, a 24-year-old student at San Francisco State, told Obama his family couldn't see each other because of the nation's immigration laws -- and that Obama wasn't doing enough by himself to change the rules.
"You have the power to stop deportation," Ju said as a chant of "stop deportation" grew behind where the President was standing.
Let them protest
Obama, who told Secret Service agents to allow the protesters to remain inside the event area, took sharp aim at Congressional Republicans during his remarks for what he said was an unwillingness to "catch up with the rest of the country" on immigration changes.
After waving off the Secret Service, Obama said, "I respect the passion of these young people because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families.
"Now what you need to know, when I'm speaking as President of the United States and I come to this community. If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so."
"But we're also a nation of laws. That's part of our tradition," Obama continued.
"And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I'm proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won't be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done."
Later, Ju told a reporter from CNN affiliate KRON that his immigration status kept him away from his family. The student is undocumented.
"I cannot celebrate Thanksgiving week, because of my immigration status," he said. He is afraid that if he visits them in South Korea, he will not be let back into the United States.
This fear led him not to attend his grandfather's funeral last year, he said. His status affects basic decisions in his everyday life, especially when it involves government authorities.
"In 2010, my home was burglarized; my door was broken; my windows were completely shattered, and my important belongings were gone, and my initial reaction is to call the police. But my mom said, 'Do not call the police. What if you get deported?'"
Ju was "disappointed" in the blame the President placed on Republicans, instead saying Obama could help reunite his family by executive order.
It's the Republicans
Obama rebutted the protesters' claims he could end deportation alone, saying he needed Congress on board to fully repair a flawed system. In 2012, Obama did end deportations for certain young immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents.
Immigration reform is "within our grasp, if we can convince folks in Washington to just do what needs to be done," Obama said, pointing to a measure passed by the Senate earlier this year that garnered bipartisan support.
That Senate measure, passed by a large majority in June, included an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that hinged upon strict new border security provisions. The bill, the work of a Senate gang of four Democrats and four Republicans, earned strong backing from the White House but wasn't taken up in the House, where some conservatives allege the citizenship clause amounts to amnesty for immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
Republican leaders in the House have said they'll take up individual immigration measures instead of the comprehensive legislation the White House says it prefers. Obama last week told a group of business chiefs he would be open to some piecemeal measures, as long as they change the aspects of the nation's immigration system that he's pushing for.
"It's not smart," Obama said of the current laws. "It's not fair. It doesn't make sense. And we have kicked this can down the road long enough."
It's about politics
In political terms, immigration reform is generally regarded as an issue that can help bolster a candidate or party among the growing U.S. Latino population; Republicans' interest in the issue of late is seen as a response to the GOP's disastrous showing among Latinos in the 2012 presidential election.
But in areas of the West Coast like San Francisco and Seattle, Asian Americans form a larger demographic bloc. The site of Obama's speech Monday, the Betty Ong Chinese Recreation Center, serves the city's historic Chinatown -- the oldest such concentration of Chinese immigrants in North America. The building is named for a flight attendant who lost her life on 9/11.
Comprehensive immigration reform would be a major legislative win for the president, who has struggled to see his top agenda items passed by a divided legislature. The signature law of his first term, the Affordable Care Act, passed on party lines when the House of Representatives was still controlled by Democrats. Today that law is mired in technological problems with its exchange website, HealthCare.gov, as well as a constant barrage of criticism from Republicans on its policy details.
The President's immigration message came amid a three-day fundraising blitz for Obama, which took him to Seattle on Sunday, San Francisco on Monday and Los Angeles on Tuesday. Immigration reform is widely popular among Democrats, as well as some of Obama's Silicon Valley donors, who have long lamented federal rules that bar them from hiring top talent trained in the United States but without the ability to work here. To underscore that point, the President was introduced Monday by Geetha Vallabhaneni, who after waiting twelve years for a green card went on to found Luminix, a software firm.
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