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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – President Barack Obama was in South Florida Wednesday for a town hall style meeting on immigration reform.
Air Force One took off just before 5:30 p.m. from Miami International Airport. President Obama waved right after boarding the plane shortly before his departure.
Hours before, the president had arrived at 2:38 p.m. He was greeted on the tarmac by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Gov. Scott even gave the President a Miami Marlins baseball cap.
The President was accompanied by Democratic U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Linda Sanchez of California.
His next stop was Florida International University’s (FIU) main campus.
Outside FIU, a few protesters gathered with signs on two street corners. “Obama Jihadist Coward,” read one. “Freedom for Cuba Helping Castro is a Crime,” read another by the hardline Cuban exile group Vigilia Mambisa.
Obama was in South Florida to take part in an immigration reform town hall meeting.
Before the event began, the audience was greeted by FIU President Mark Rosenberg.
“We live immigration in this community,” he said. “So this is the appropriate place to have this conversation.”
Immigration has always been a hot topic in South Florida and continues to be even though a Texas judge temporarily blocked the president’s plan to shield more than four million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity. I think it highlights the profile of our university how big FIU is academically and it is great because it is also highlights Miami and there is a reason for that, it is an honor,” said Alian Collozo, a FIU student.
On Wednesday, the president said he will veto any bill that comes out of Congress crippling Homeland Security over immigration issues and he said he’s confident he will beat the judge’s ruling against his changes.
“We’ve had a system for a very long time that nobody is happy with,” said the president during the event.
About a third of the immigrants now living in the United States illegally would be eligible for temporary protection if Obama’s latest orders are upheld in court, either because they were brought to the U.S. as children or because their own children have legal status in the country.
Students watched on monitors around campus as Obama vowed to fight those who opposed his easing of immigration rules saying America is on his side.
“People recognize this was the right thing and the smart thing to do,” said the president.
Fewer than a hundred students got to see the president in person as he vowed to veto any bill that would tie border patrol and Homeland Security funding to undoing his immigration reforms.
Homeland Security is said to go broke on Friday. President Obama said American should focus on deporting felons not families. This went over big with a largely immigrant crowd.
“People that are here to better themselves, to better our country, that pay their taxes, that do the right thing why not keep them here in America ,” said Collozo.
FIU Student Julio Calderon was one of several undocumented immigrants President Obama met with face-to-face for the first time.
“I think it’s history, it’s just amazing,” said Calderon..”You don’t get to see the president every day. Even when they are in office, a lot of people wanted to be present, there is only a selected group and I am thankful to be present.”
Calderon came to this country illegally from Honduras nine years ago hoped to be heard.
“We came to this country to make the country better, to better ourselves, if I am doing that why not give me the opportunity, that is my question,” said Calderon.
Calderon said he’s working very hard for his future and hopes it will pay off.
“To think of what I am going to do after I graduate, having the degree, being prepared and not having the job opportunity. It hurts a lot, I feel like an American, I just need to be recognized as an American,” said Calderon.
The nationally televised event, hosted by Miami-based Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart, was in English and Spanish.
Aside from immigration talks, President Obama is set to touch on another controversial topic.
The president is set to meet with the parents of Trayvon Martin on Thursday, according to a spokesperson for Trayvon Martin’s foundation.