Obama was asked tough questions about deportations and immigration reform.
President Barack Obama talks with television hosts Jose Diaz Balart, center, and Enrique Acevedo, left, during a town hall event on the importance of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for Hispanic community, Thursday, March 6, 2014, at the Newseum in Washington. The hosts also asked Obama tough questions about deportations and immigration reform. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama rejected criticism on Thursday from Latino and immigrant rights leaders who’ve labeled him the “deporter-in-chief” and instead called himself the “champion-in-chief” of immigration reform.

Speaking at a town hall sponsored by several Spanish-language media outlets, Obama insisted he has championed for immigration reform but that Congress has refused to pass any legislation. The president also reiterated he cannot act on his own to stop deportations.

“I am the champion-in-chief of comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. “What I’ve said in the past remains true, which is until Congress passes a new law, I am constrained in what I’m able to do.”

The president also said that creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants undocumented youth a temporary deportation reprieve and work authorization, was the most he could do to stop deportations.

“That already stretched my administrative capacity,” he said about his order to create the DACA program.

The town hall was intended to focus on how Latinos across the country can enroll for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But it quickly turned into a conversation about immigration reform and Obama’s record on deportations, which is set to reach 2 million this month.

Pressure on Obama to stop deportations escalates

Thursday’s event comes at a time when there’s escalating pressure on Obama to halt deportations.

The latest push came Tuesday when Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, labeled the president as the “deporter-in-chief” and called on him to stop deportations.

“We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations,” Murguía said at the 27th Annual NCLR Capital Awards. “He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos. He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this.”

Also speaking at the NCLR Capital Awards, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called on Obama to “halt needless deportations that are splitting apart our families and communities.” On Wednesday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he supported Menendez’s call to the president.

The National Day Laborers Organizing Network was one of the first groups to insist that Obama has the power to stop deportations. Now, the group plans to escalate their efforts.

It announced Thursday that at least 25 states have signed up to participate in a national day of action on April 5 as part of the #Not1More Deportation campaign. Some of the actions include a 65-mile walk to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, a “Coming Out of the Shadows” event in Chicago and a march to the White House.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of NDLON, said Thursday he was pleased to see more organizations and members of Congress are joining the national chorus calling on Obama to stop deportations.

“Challenging the president’s deportation record is not a new thing,” he said in a call with reporters Thursday. “What’s new here is that the massive anger, the massive outrage that we’ve felt throughout the country is now breaking into the beltway.”

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