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Obama interrupted: President goes unscripted on immigration in exchange with protester

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Nov. 25, 2013: President Obama gestures as he attempts to respond to a protestor who began to heckle him about anti-deportation policies, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco, Calif. (AP)

In a candid exchange with a protester demanding immigration reform, President Obama Monday departed from his text during a San Francisco speech to blame congressional Republicans for not voting to support the measure.

Obama had arrived Monday in the city's largely immigrant Chinatown neighborhood expecting to deliver a solo performance in support of passing immigration reform, but was interrupted by a heckler demanding he enact the legislation through executive order.

“If I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would,” Obama told him.

“I need your help,” the protester, identified as Ju Hong, shouted from behind the stage.

“Families are separated for Thanksgiving... . I need your help... . Mister President please use executive order to halt deportation for all 11.5 (million) undocumented immigrants in this country right now. We agree we need to pass reform. But at same time, you have the power to stop deportation.”

The president turned and told his security detail not to remove the protester and said: “Actually, I don't. And that's why we're here … The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend 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...

“Right now it’s up to the Republicans,” said the president, who restated his support for passing a reform bill in pieces.

Obama spoke to about 600 people inside the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Rec Center, trying to rally support for immigration reform since any possibility that Congress will pass such legislation seems to be put off until at least next year.

The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill with bipartisan support earlier this year. The plan would provide a path toward citizenship for some of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Companion legislation has stalled in the Republican-controlled House with chamber leaders trying to take a step-by-step approach that would begin with tighter border security.

 “It’s Thanksgiving," he told the crowd, "and we can carve that bird into multiple pieces. People aren’t worried about the process, they’re worried about the results. …. But it’s going to take some courage.”

Obama also said he believes House Speaker John Boehner when he says he wants to pass immigration reform. But the president also tried to instill a sense of urgency for such a plan, which he argued started with his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush.

“If we don’t take the time now, we are undercutting our own future,” said the president, also arguing that the United States by not reforming its immigration laws is letting talent college graduates leave to work for competing nations and that reform would cut federal deficits and grow the economy by at least a trillion dollars.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s the smart thing to do.”