WASHINGTON — House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she respects young immigrants who shouted her down at an event in San Francisco, but said their call for a comprehensive immigration overhaul was premature.
Instead, lawmakers must focus on protecting young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, Pelosi said.
"We are not in a position where we can say all or none. We have to save the Dreamers now," Pelosi said at a news conference at the Capitol.
"Dreamers" is a term used for young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children or by parents who overstayed visas.
On Monday, dozens of protesters disrupted an event in Pelosi's hometown of San Francisco, showing their displeasure over her recent meetings with President Donald Trump over ways to continue the program that protects young immigrants from deportation. The protesters called for reform that gives legal status to all immigrants in the country, not just young people.
While she said she respects their concerns, Pelosi said she disagreed with the protesters. "There are some who say all or none. We don't have that opportunity" in a Republican-led Congress, Pelosi said.
Laith Ocean, a 20-year-old Northern California junior college student who was among the protesters who shut down Pelosi's event Monday, said Wednesday that the students had acted to make their voices heard.
"She turned her back to us, she called a conference in our name without consulting us," said Ocean, a transgender immigrant from Nicaragua who attended a town hall on immigration featuring Democratic California Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson.
Ocean and other students from Monday's protest denied they were seeking immediate overall immigration reform.
The issue, Ocean said, "was we don't want her making any deals with Trump" in the name of Dreamers.
"My friends, my family, my community are not bargaining chips" for Democratic deal-making with the Trump administration, said Alexander Gonzalez Jiminez, 23, another of the protesters from Monday.
Last week, Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer met with Trump twice and discussed a deal to provide legal status to young immigrants. Trump said earlier this month he will halt the program instituted by former President Barack Obama if Congress does not act to continue it. Trump gave Congress six months to fix it.
Schumer and Pelosi said they reached a deal with the White House on legislation that would offer eventual citizenship to the immigrants in question. Republicans say talks focused on making permanent the protections offered under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly referred to as DACA.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was booed last month in San Francisco after she called for patience in dealing with Trump, saying she hoped he would change for the better.
Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Santa Rosa contributed to this report.