President Barack Obama invoked San Francisco history and culture to make points about immigration reform during a speech in Chinatown on Monday that was one of several stops in The City.
Obama’s visit to San Francisco included a quick greeting by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein at San Francisco International Airport, the speech at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center, and two fundraisers — at the SFJAZZ Center and the home of Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.
Obama’s first stop in Chinatown included several topics, starting with the president giving a nod to 5-year-old Miles Scott, a cancer patient whose leukemia is in remission and who became Batkid for a day in The City on Nov. 15 as part of a now-famous Make-A-Wish Foundation event in his honor.
“I love San Francisco. You got great food, you got great people, beautiful scenery — no more supervillains because Batkid cleaned up the streets,” Obama said.
The president also touched on the nuclear deal with Iran before moving on to the main topic: immigration.
During the speech, the president said it was “long past time to fix our broken immigrations system.” In the comments that followed, he made reference to Angel Island, an immigration station known as the “Ellis Island of the West” through which many immigrants from countries in Asia made their way to San Francisco in the early 1900s.
Obama also made reference to Mayor Ed Lee by talking hypothetically about an immigrant who starts out washing dishes and thinks, “This is a place where my son can become mayor of San Francisco.”
The speech by Obama appeared to be aimed at putting pressure on Congress to pass immigration reform. The president said he wants to see Congress pass such a bill by the end of the year. He called for reform that includes a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented residents and measures to strengthen border security.
“The only thing standing in the way is the unwillingness of certain Republicans,” he said.
GOP leaders in the House of Representatives have so far blocked consideration of a bipartisan Senate bill that would overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Obama touted the economic benefits he said the United States would see if the Senate bill became law, saying the economy would grow by $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years.
“It would boost our economy and shrink our deficits,” he said. “You don’t have to be an economist to figure out our workers will be more productive” without the worry of deportation or being separated from family members.
The president again pointed to San Francisco, saying 35 percent of the business owners in The City are immigrants, adding that the economy here is “among the fastest growing in the country.” The event — attended by many city and state officials — was not without controversy.
As Obama neared the end of the speech on immigration reform at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center, a young man standing on the riser behind the president began to shout over him.
“Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country right now,” the man said as people next to him turned to look.
Obama tried to continue, but the man kept going.
“You have the power to stop deportation for all of them,” the man yelled.
“Actually, no, I don’t,” the president said, turning to address him, as several others joined in, chanting, “Stop deportation now!”
While the president is sometimes heckled by audience members at speeches, it is unusual for the interruption to come from one of the people allowed to stand as a backdrop for him while he speaks.
As event organizers sought to remove the young man from the stand, Obama waved them off.
“I respect the passion of these young people,” he said. “If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so.”
“The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws,” the president said. “And what I’m proposing is taking the harder path and using our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve.”
After the Chinatown event, the president headed to the new SFJAZZ Center in Hayes Valley to meet with supporters during a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.
After his appearance at the SFJAZZ Center, Obama attended the fundraiser at Benioff’s home before heading off to Los Angeles.