Obama faces off with heckler during San Francisco visit

A San Francisco State Student, who is an undocumented immigrant from South Korea, explained why he heckled President Obama.
November 25, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
President Barack Obama spent part of the day in the Bay Area Monday. He made several fundraising stops and faced protesters and one very vocal heckler during the six-hour visit.

Air Force One touched down at San Francisco International Airport at 10:37 a.m. The president flew in Monday morning from Seattle, another stop on his three-day West Coast fundraising tour.

Obama's first stop was a community center in San Francisco's Chinatown named for Betty Ong, one of the heroic flight attendants killed on Sept. 11.

Ong's niece Lauren Woo sang the national anthem at the event. She later told ABC7 News she was nervous singing for the president, but she had her angel with her.

"I thought of my Aunt Betty the entire time; that's the only thing that helped me hold it together," Woo said.

Ong's brother and mother met privately with Obama before his speech.

"He said your sister was a 9/11 hero and she did a wonderful, brave job after what she did on the airplane," Harry Ong said.

At the Chinatown event, Obama's speech focused on immigration and the importance of a comprehensive reform package. The president said, all too often, the immigration debate centers south of the border. Asians, he added, should be part of that discussion.

"Today, more than one in four residents born outside the U.S. come from Asian countries," Obama said.

A heckler interrupted Obama during his speech. Ju Hong is an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. from South Korea 13 years ago. The San Francisco State University and Cal grad student says he wants the president to use his executive powers to stop deportations.

"This is very urgent and this was the only venue where I could speak out and I'm representing the voices of other undocumented students who are actually in detention centers right now who could not be here," Hong said.

The president stopped Secret Service agents who tried to remove Hong and other protesters. Hong says he did not go to the event intending to disrupt the president, but felt compelled to do so.

"First of all, I wasn't even intending to interrupt Obama's speech," said Hong.

Hong and a handful of his friends were handpicked to stand behind the president not too long after they arrived at the recreation center.

"I think they picked us out, out of the crowd, to be decorations for the background. But we have our own minds too," said Dean Santos, an audience member.

Hong says he's tired of hearing politicians talk about immigration reform, but doing nothing about it, which is why he decided to speak out.

"Please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country right now," said Hong during Obama's speech.

Obama answered back, "If in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we're also a nation of laws, that's part of our tradition."

Hong later told ABC7 News, "He treated me like a little kid and he did not directly answer my question so it was very disappointing."

Despite the disappointing response, Hong says he remains undeterred in his efforts to stand up for undocumented immigrants.

After speaking at the recreation center, Obama then attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the SFJazz Center. About 200 protesters rallying against the Keyston XL pipeline project waited for the president outside the event, but inside the president was met by fans and supporters.

The Rev. Lawrence Lakey paid $5,000 to see him.

"To me it was worth it to pass down to my children and grandchildren that I shook the hand and took a picture with the first black president ever elected," Lakey said.

Tickets for the event originally ranged from $1,000-$15,000, but as pre-sales lagged, organizers cut the lowest price to $500 which allowed Claire Wahrhaftig to attend.

"Some of us can't afford $1,500 or $2,000, that is a stretch," she said. "I'm proud, I'm a big supporter."

The president's final stop was a private lunch in Pacific Heights at the home of Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff.

Air Force One departed for Los Angeles shortly after 4:30 p.m.

This was President Obama's ninth fundraising trip to the Bay Area in the past two and a half years.

Bay City News contributed to this report.


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