Pro-immigrant protesters interrupted Jeb Bush's much-awaited presidential campaign launch Monday at Miami Dade College, an unexpected moment for one of the most pro-immigrant voices in the Republican 2016 field.
Midway through his speech, a group of people in the bleachers revealed shirts that read "LEGAL STATUS IS NOT ENOUGH" and started yelling as Bush spoke. It led to a standoff as his supporters applauded loudly to drown out their voices. As they began to leave the building, chants of "USA! USA" broke out and Bush ad-libbed an answer them.
"The next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that will be resolved—not by executive order," Bush said, as the cheers grew louder.
The hecklers were sent by the groups United We Dream and Homestead's Equal Rights for All, spokespersons said. UWD has also been critical of Obama for high levels of deportations during his presidency.
Bush's prepared remarks, provided by his campaign, made no mention of immigration, a touchy subject with the conservative base. He supports a comprehensive overhaul that includes path to "legal status" for undocumented immigrants. That's a bridge too far for many conservatives. But in an illustration of the needle he's threading, it's not far enough for some activists—who don't like the fact that he has opposed letting people in the U.S. illegally become citizens.
"We protested Jeb Bush today because he has been all over the map on immigration," said Mariana Martinez of Homestead ERA. "He's gone from calling immigration an 'act of love', to saying that those who overstayed their visa to be found and 'kindly asked to leave', similar to Mitt Romney’s call for self-deportation in 2012."
The speech came on the third anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive program in 2012 (called Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, or DACA) to let young people brought to the country illegally as children stay and work temporarily. That, in addition to Obama's 2014 executive actions to protect 4 million more, are shaping up to be a major flashpoint in the 2016 election. Republicans oppose the programs; Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton wants to expand them to protect even more unauthorized immigrants.
Bush has insisted he won't "bend with the wind" by backing down on his support for reforming immigration.