President Barack Obama called on Congress – again – to pass comprehensive immigration reform during an appearance near San Francisco's Chinatown, though its chances of being taken up by House Republicans remain slim.
Obama, confronted by a pro-reform heckler who asked him to use "executive power" to halt all deportations, said it was beyond his power to do so.
"What you need to know is when I'm speaking as president of the United States and I come to this community is that if in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress then I would do so," Obama said. "But we're also a nation of laws; that's part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to yell and pretend that I can do something by violating our laws and what I am proposing is the harder path which is to use our democratic process to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve."
Obama used the West Coast stop, part of a fundraising trip, to play up the importance of immigration reform to Asian immigrants, who are often overshadowed in the debate by the emphasis on Hispanic immigrants, a more populous group. He said the current system "doesn't serve America as well as it should."
"We could be doing so much more to unleash our potential if we just fix this aspect of our system," Obama said, noting that immigration reform was a top priority for a group of top executives with whom he recently met.
"The thing they wanted to talk about, their top priority, was the fact that we invite the brightest minds from around the world to study here…and then we don't invite them to stay so we're training our own competition," he said.
And Obama left no doubt about who it was he blamed for the lack of progress on reforming the immigration system.
"The only thing standing in our way right now is the unwillingness of certain Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country," he said.
But his appearance is unlikely to sway the stalled momentum. House Republican leadership has shown little interest in taking up the bipartisan Senate-passed bill that includes an earned path to citizenship from undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, or piecemeal legislation proposed in the House.
Nonetheless, Obama asked the supporters of reform to continue to press their lawmakers into action.
"This is the country our parents and grandparents and waves of immigrants before them built for us and it falls on each new generation to keep it that way. The Statue of Liberty doesn't have its back to the world; the Statue of Liberty faces the world and raises its light to the world," he said.
Obama even pointed to his own background as an example of immigration gone right.
"What makes us American is not what we look like or what our names are, because we look like the world. And you've got a president named Obama," he said. "What makes America is our shared belief in certain enduring principles – our allegiance to a set of ideas, to a creed."