Obama defends his immigration executive actions in town hall

President Obama defended his executive actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation during a town hall on Wednesday, exactly one week after a…

President Obama is interviewed by anchor Jose Diaz-Balart during an immigration town hall meeting at Florida International University in Miami on February 25, 2015. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama defended his executive actions to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation during a town hall on Wednesday, exactly one week after a federal judge issued a last-minute order to temporarily halt the president’s immigration actions.

“This is just one federal judge. We have appealed it very aggressively,” Obama said, referring to the judge’s ruling. “We’re going to be as aggressive as we can because not only do we know that the law is on our side, but history is also on our side.”

SEE ALSO: Eva Longoria to fundraise in conjunction with Obama’s Miami visit

Obama spent about an hour answering questions from anchor Jose Diaz-Balart at a town hall hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo on the campus of Florida International University in Miami. The president said he was confident that his administration will ultimately prevail in defending his executive actions in court. In the meantime, he urged immigrants to prepare to apply for deportation relief so that they’ll be ready to do so once the legal fight is resolved.

The president also tried to reassure immigrants that despite the judge’s ruling, they will not be deported if they qualify for his executive actions. He said his administration has instructed immigration agents to focus on deporting “criminals and people who have just crossed the border.”

But a number of attendees and people who asked questions through social media questioned why their relatives who don’t have serious criminal records and aren’t recent border crossers are still facing deportation. Obama responded by saying that his administration is still implementing the new deportation guidelines he announced in November as part of his executive actions.

“There are going to be some jurisdictions, and there may be individual ICE officials or Border Patrol [agents] who aren’t paying attention to our new directives,” he said. “But they’re going to be answerable to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, because he’s been very clear about what our priorities should be. And I’ve been very clear about what our priorities should be.”

SEE ALSO: Wilmer Valderrama urges immigrants to keep calm; prepare for deportation relief

The president also spent some time criticizing Republicans for “trying to hold hostage” funding for the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to block his executive actions on immigration. His remarks came the same day Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to allow a vote on a DHS funding bill that doesn’t include provisions targeting Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

President Barack Obama (right) waves to the audience with Noticiero Telemundo Anchor Jose Diaz-Balart (left) while posing for photos after an immigration town hall meeting at Florida International University in Miami on February 25, 2015. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama (right) waves to the audience with Noticiero Telemundo Anchor Jose Diaz-Balart (left) while posing for photos after an immigration town hall meeting at Florida International University in Miami on February 25, 2015. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The Senate is expected to pass the bill and send it to the House, where its fate is uncertain. And with just a few days before the department runs out of money, Obama urged Congress to pass a clean DHS funding bill.

“If Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, want to have a vote over whether what I’m doing is legal or not, they can have that vote,” Obama said. “I will veto that vote, because I’m absolutely confident what we’re doing is the right thing to do.”

But the president also emphasized that this executive actions are only temporary. He urged attendees to continue pressuring Congress, especially Republicans, to pass an immigration reform bill.

“We’ve got to pass a bill,” Obama insisted. “The pressure has to continue to stay on Congress. The pressure has got to continue to stay on the Republican Party that is currently blocking the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.”

SEE ALSO: Immigrant families deliver message to Republicans: Stop the attacks

In the past, Obama has been criticized for not pushing for immigration reform when he had control of both chambers of Congress during his first two years as president. Diaz-Balart brought that up gain on Wednesday, saying, “Mr. President, when you had absolute control of Congress, you really didn’t fight for immigration.”

Obama responded by saying there were a number of issues he had on his plate when he first took office, including the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a collapsing global economy, high unemployment rates and the burst the housing bubble.

“It wasn’t as if I was just sitting back, not doing anything,” the president said. “We were moving very aggressively on a whole host of issues. And we moved as fast as we could, and we wanted immigration done…But, ultimately, we could not get the votes to get it all done.”

Moving forward, Obama said the best way to bring about change and to get an immigration reform bill passed is by voting. He noted that only about one-third of eligible voters turned out to vote in the last election, while other countries that are facing war or high levels of poverty have higher voter turnout rates.

“If here in the United States of America, we voted at 60 percent, 70 percent, it would transform our politics,” the president said. “Our Congress would be completely different. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform. It would have already been done.”

SEE ALSO: Pope Francis will likely discuss immigration in address to Congress