A heckler who interrupted President Barack Obama's speech on immigration in San Francisco on Monday says he spoke out because his family has been torn apart by U.S. immigration policy — and the administration has done nothing to help them.
"Usually we're supposed to be props," Ju Hong told the San Jose Mercury News. "I was shaking a little bit, but thinking about me and my family and my community and my friends, the pain they have suffered under the Obama administration ... it really sparked a buildup of my anger. It made me speak out."
The 24-year-old, who came to the United States from South Korea when he was 11, pleaded with the president to use an executive order to stop deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally.
“My family has been separated for 19 months now,” Hong, standing on a riser behind Obama, shouted. “I need your help. You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country.”
"Actually, I don't," Obama said, "and that's why we're here."
As members of the Secret Service moved in to remove Hong, the president called them off, telling Hong his speech was part of an effort to get Congress to pass immigration reform.
"The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. What I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won’t be as easy as just shouting.”
“He blames Congress but not himself,” Hong told the Daily Californian. “He said he’s in full support [of immigration reform], but he’s not doing anything. An executive order is not violating the law.”
It's not the first time Hong, who graduated in 2012, has taken to civil disobedience to make his point.
In August, he was one of six protesters arrested after interrupting a ceremony welcoming former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as the new president of UC-Berkeley.
In 2011, Hong and six other undocumented student activists were arrested at a rally in San Bernadino, Calif., after blocking a street in protest of Arizona's anti-immigration laws. (The rally was in support of the Dream Act, which enabled undocumented students to qualify for financial aid.)
“This is my last year at Cal," Hong said after his 2011 arrest. "After I graduate, now what? Even with a degree from UC-Berkeley, I cannot legally work."
Hong was part of a group of San Francisco-based activists (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) in attendance at Obama's speech.
"Mr. President, I did not heckle you," Hong wrote on Twitter. "I was speaking the truth."