Obama confronts hecklers on immigration in Chicago

By Rachel White and Zachary Vasile

Photos by Janel Forte

"To those who think what happened in Ferguson [Monday night] is an excuse for violence, I don't sympathize with you," President Obama told an audience at the Copernicus Community Center in Chicago Tuesday.  Janel Forte/Medill
“To those who think what happened in Ferguson [Monday night] is an excuse for violence, I don’t sympathize with you,” President Obama told an audience at the Copernicus Community Center in Chicago Tuesday.
President Barack Obama was likely expecting a friendly crowd Tuesday when he flew into Chicago to tout his recent executive order that would make as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. eligible for temporary legal status and work permits. But the president didn’t have much time to bask in his accomplishment before Chicago immigration activists repeatedly interrupted him and criticized him for not going far enough.

During the president’s speech, a woman seated in the bleachers behind the podium unfurled a small banner reading “Obama Stop Deportations Now” and attempted to shout down the president.

Arianna Salgado, 22, also interrupted the president as he spoke at the Copernicus Community Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The president’s actions are “too little, too late,” Salgado said in an interview with Medill News Service after the speech concluded.

The undocumented population has plenty of reasons to be upset, Salgado said. For example, the president’s order doesn’t cover the parents of children who were brought here illegally, so-called Dreamers. Salgado said she was sitting next to a family during the speech that does not qualify for a stay of deportation — an example of the holes in the president’s executive order.

Despite the hecklers, most of the crowd was openly supportive of the president and some in the audience attempted to drown out the shouting protesters. Obama took it all in stride.

“What’s wonderful about America is also what makes our democracy hard sometimes,” the president said.

Obama said bipartisan legislation is necessary to fix America’s dysfunctional immigration policy. “Our immigration system has been broken for a long time,” the president told the crowd. He reiterated that his move does not create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, saying “That is something only Congress can do.”

Jim Gorman, a 66-year-old resident of Chicago’s Northwest Side, liked what Obama had to say and the way he said it. “The Democrats sometimes have a hard time communicating and the ease of the president’s presentation was impressive,” Gorman said.

Obama also took time at the beginning of his speech to discuss the recent civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

“There are productive ways of responding and destructive ways of responding. Those are criminal acts,” he said referring to the burning of buildings and police cars in Ferguson Monday night. “People should be prosecuted if they commit criminal acts.”

But the president also voiced sympathy for those across the nation disappointed by the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson.

“The frustrations people have are rooted in some hard truths,” Obama said. “I want those folks who are protesting constructively to know that their president is going to work for them.”

“The problem is not just a Ferguson problem. It’s an American problem,” he said.