Bay Area elected officials and others who heard President Barack Obama’s speech about immigration reform at the Betty Ong Recreation Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown shared their reactions this afternoon.
Obama spoke at the recreation center at 1199 Mason St. around noon as part of a quick six-hour visit to San Francisco that included the speech and two fundraising stops at the new SFJazz Center and the home of Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the president appeared to be reaching out to Asian-Americans to help put pressure on House Republicans to support immigration reform.
“Immigration reform has been a long-term priority for the Bay Area,” Quan said.
During his speech, Obama said he wants to see Congress pass an immigration reform 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.
GOP leaders in the House of Representatives have so far blocked consideration of a bipartisan Senate bill that contains sweeping immigration reforms.
Quan said that as a political leader, she is going to be “reaching out to Republicans” to expedite the passage of the proposed legislation.
The mayor said she agrees with Obama that immigration reform would have a positive economic impact.
“The California economy relies on immigrants,” she said.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu commented on Obama’s response to a heckler in the crowd at the Chinatown event.
Toward the end of Obama’s speech, a man in the stands behind the president yelled out, “I need your help. For my family. Stop deportation. You have the power.”
Obama told Secret Service agents to let the man remain where he was, and said to the crowd, while turning occasionally to address the heckler directly, that if it were up to him he would simply enact sweeping changes, but that it remains up to Congress to pass immigration reform legislation.
Chiu said “the president handled it as well as he could” and that the heckler represents many frustrated California residents.
Chiu said that, like the president, he respects the democratic process and that change depends on Congress.
Two college students who represent the Northern California region of the group Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also attended Obama’s policy speech.
Ana Maciel, a student at the University of California at Davis, said she had “mixed emotions” after hearing the president speak.
“The stuff he said, we’ve heard it before,” she said.
However, she said she appreciates that Obama seems committed to getting a bill passed by the end of the year.
Sacramento State University student Christopher Sanchez questioned Obama’s willingness to support “piecemeal” reform instead of one bill addressing issues including jobs, safety, deportation, and family reunification.
Sanchez said family members and friends have gone through the deportation process and that the system is “not fair for hard-working people” and needs a complete overhaul.
Obama arrived in the Bay Area mid-morning following a visit to Seattle. After the Chinatown event he stopped by the fundraisers at the jazz center and Benioff’s San Francisco home before heading back to San Francisco International Airport. Air Force One departed for Los Angeles shortly after 4:30 p.m.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News