Obama rebukes deportation criticism

President Obama declared himself "champion-in-chief of comprehensive immigration reform" on Thursday, rebuking criticism from Hisoanic civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers on his deportation policy.

At a town-hall event at D.C.'s Newseum, Obama said he's been pushing for comprehensive reform since he first ran for president.

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Earlier this week, National Council of La Raza (NCLR) President Janet Murguia slammed Obama as the "deporter-in-chief" during the Latino advocacy group's annual awards dinner, noting he had overseen more deportations than any other president.

The criticism was particularly stinging because the group has been among the president's strongest supporters, and the president's Domestic Policy Council director, Cecilia Muñoz, was a former NCLR vice president.

Sen. Robert Menedez (D-N.J.) echoed Murgula's concerns during the dinner, urging the president to ease deportations of illegal immigrants while waiting on a comprehensive immigration bill.

But Obama said that until Congress passes a new law, he is "constrained in terms of what I am able to do."

"I cannot ignore those laws any more than I can ignore any of the other laws that are on the books," Obama said.

The president said that his move in 2012 to halt deportations of children brought to the country illegally "already stretched my administrative capacity very far."

But, Obama said, "since I ran for president, I've been pushing for comprehensive immigration reform."

He added that he had lobbied Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) personally on he issue.

"I think he's sincere about wanting to do it," Obama said.

Obama sat for the town hall to promote sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act before the March 31 enrollment deadline. The president insisted to Hispanic Americans that if they came from mixed-status families, there was no danger of identifying family members as being in the country illegally while signing up for insurance.

"While we're waiting to get comprehensive immigration reform done, I don't want a young person out there to get sick [who] could have had health insurance," Obama said.

"There is no sharing of data for mixed families," he added.

Obama said he did not believe his credibility with Latinos had been undermined by the rate of deportations or problems with the Spanish-language healthcare website. He cited his moves to help Hispanic access to universities and mortgages, as well as his deferred action program for so-called Dreamers.

"I think the community understands I've got their back, and I'm fighting for them," Obama said.

The president acknowledged that "part of the job" was fielding criticism.

"When you're president, somebody is always frustrated or unhappy you haven't done something," Obama said.

But he said that those angry with him should still investigate enrolling in healthcare.

"You don't punish me by not signing up for healthcare, you're punishing you or your family ... that's not a matter of trusting me," Obama said.

The president also ruled out extending the enrollment deadline or blocking the individual mandate for Hispanics who were frustrated with the enrollment system.

"The website works really well now," Obama said. "Anybody who's watching, you still have a month to sign up. It doesn't take that long."