COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In a wave of staggered protests, five groups of loud and persistent activists disrupted Hillary Clinton's speech at a rally here on Thursday.
The incident marked the latest, and rowdiest, in a series of public actions meant to press Clinton to disclose her stance on the executive actions to slow deportations
that President Obama is expected to announce after the midterm elections.
For about 10 minutes of a stump speech at the Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland College Park, Clinton had trouble making her words heard over the shouts and hollers from the immigration activists with United We Dream, a national advocacy group that has targeted Clinton at her public speeches this year.
Last week, four protesters from a United We Dream affiliate caused a minor disturbance at Clinton's rally for Sen. Kay Hagan in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But the demonstration on Thursday was the group's biggest effort yet.
The protests, timed at intervals from different parts of the auditorium, had a startling effect. Clinton was about five minutes through her remarks here — a stump speech to support Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Maryland — when the first wave of hecklers started shouting from the audience.
They held signs that read, "Choose Families Over Politics."
When the group of about six activists on the main floor started yelling, Clinton kept to her speech. But eventually, she acknowledged the cries from the crowd.
"Immigration is an important issue in this state," Clinton said.
Martin O'Malley, the outgoing governor here, passed a state version of the DREAM Act two years ago granting in-state tuition to young undocumented immigrants.
The crowd of Clinton and Brown fans overpowered the first round of hecklers, who were escorted out by security. "Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!" the audience chanted.
"If they'd just waited a little while, I was getting to the DREAM Act," Clinton joked.
"I'm a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform," she added.
"We have to treat everyone with dignity and compassion."
But that's not the answer these activists were looking for. The idea of the demonstrations — according to protesters who have participated in them this year and officials from United We Dream — is to pressure Clinton to say whether she supports the executive actions Obama has said he'll take after the election.
Greisa Martinez, a 26-year-old activist from Texas who was one of those escorted out by security, said the group was there to show its displeasure with reports that the president is considering excluding a key group from future executive actions: the parents of undocumented immigrants given temporary legal status in 2012.
"She tried to make it seem like we were advocating for the DREAM Act when she knows very well that's not what we're asking for," Martinez said.
"We wanted to ask, 'Madam Secretary, where do you stand on administrative relief? We demand relief for our families — and where do you stand on the president acting?'"
The United We Dream activists said last month that Clinton will be a continuing target of actions like the one last week in North Carolina and Thursday in Maryland.
When it seemed like the protests had died down, Clinton returned to the normal rhythm of her speech. Then another group of activists started chanting "We Shall Overcome" in a sing-song voice from the risers. More waves of protests followed.
There appeared to be about five groups dispersed about the hall. In total, the United We Dream activists here on Thursday numbered at least a dozen.
Each time another round of shouts started from one part of the auditorium, security found the hecklers and escorted them out.
The confrontation is the latest and largest disturbance at a Clinton event from immigration activists across the country — including California, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
United We Dream officials said the organization believes they are starting to make a mark by continually putting the issue to Clinton publicly.
Martinez, the protester who was part of the group singing and chanting as they were escorted out, said she connected and spoke with several white, middle-aged women who were at the event to support Clinton. Martinez told them she was protesting because she was worried she might lose her mother to deportation.
As Martinez was escorted out, she said the group of women joined her and the other protesters in singing "We Shall Overcome."
Martinez said the Latino and immigrant communities deserve to know where Clinton stands on granting some kind of legal status for their parents.
Towards the end of her speech, Clinton added, "It's always good to have some debate and discussion in an election season like we're having now."