President Obama traveled to Chicago on Tuesday to sell his executive action on immigration in a speech at a community center in a predominantly Polish-American neighborhood, although his remarks were frequently interrupted by hecklers.
Obama began the speech by mentioning the protests in Ferguson, urging demonstrators in the Missouri city not to resort to violence. He then turned toward his executive action, which made nearly 5 million immigrants eligible to avoid deportation.
Obama praised the contributions to the U.S. by a broad patchwork of immigrants, saying it is imperative that the U.S. act now to change its broken immigration policy. 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.
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 and asked them to stop yelling. Then when it appeared he'd had enough, the former lawyer and 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. 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.