GREENWOOD, S.C. — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an immigrants’ rights activist on Thursday engaged in an unusually extended clash over Obama-era deportation policies in an exchange that turned sharply confrontational.
For more than six minutes in a palpably tense gym here during a town hall-style event at Lander University, Mr. Biden sparred with the activist, Carlos Rojas, an organizer with the immigrants’ rights group Movimiento Cosecha. The organization is urging presidential candidates to back a moratorium on deportations on their first day in office and has protested Mr. Biden before.
“You should vote for Trump,” Mr. Biden admonished Mr. Rojas during one of the most heated moments, after Mr. Rojas rattled off deportation figures under the Obama administration amid scattered cries of “give him the mic!”
“You should vote for Trump,” Mr. Biden repeated.
“No, no,” Mr. Rojas said. “I’m not going to do that.”
Mr. Biden was not the only presidential candidate to face protesters Thursday evening. In Atlanta, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was interrupted during a speech at Clark Atlanta University by a group of charter school activists.
In South Carolina, Mr. Rojas began the exchange by translating for an immigrant named Silvia who raised concerns about the deportation numbers under former President Barack Obama.
“If you were to be president, will you stop deportations on Day 1 through executive action?” Mr. Rojas asked.
“No,” Mr. Biden responded. “I will not stop all deportations. I will prioritize deportations only of people who have committed a felony or a serious crime, number one.”
He walked over to stand near Mr. Rojas and Silvia.
“Number two,” he continued, “to compare President Obama to this guy is outrageous.”
The room applauded.
Mr. Biden went on to defend the Obama administration’s record on immigration, and said he would not discuss any areas of internal disagreement with Mr. Obama. And he repeatedly said he would not back a total moratorium on deportations, even as his remarks were punctuated several times by protesters who shouted, “Not one more deportation.” After Mr. Biden promised that there would not be family separations under his administration, someone shouted, “That’s a lie!”
“No matter what happens, someone commits murder, they shouldn’t be deported,” Mr. Biden said, characterizing the protesters’ position with an edge in his voice. By then, Mr. Rojas had left his seat and was standing next to Mr. Biden in the center of the room. “No, I’m asking you a question,” Mr. Biden added.
The exchange finally ended as the protesters left the room and the rest of the audience applauded Mr. Biden.
In several Democratic debates this year, Mr. Biden has faced criticism from his rivals over the Obama administration’s deportation practices when Mr. Biden was serving as vice president. Mr. Biden, meanwhile, is a fierce critic of the hard-line immigration policies of the Trump administration, especially of family separation.
Minutes after the immigrants’ rights protesters left, he faced another interruption.
“I do not take money from corporations!” Mr. Biden said. “You listen to Bernie too much.”
The clashes upended what had been an otherwise friendly town hall — but some voters afterward commended Mr. Biden’s stewardship of the incident.
Dan Healy, 70, said that he liked that Mr. Biden “said he wouldn’t stop deportations for criminals.”
“Yeah, he didn’t back down,” Mr. Healy’s wife, Lora Healy, 72, said.
Ms. Warren was in the opening minutes of her speech, a major address on racial inequities, when she was disrupted.
Ms. Warren eventually received some assistance from Representative Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, who had introduced her at the event. Ms. Pressley came back onstage and urged the protesters to let Ms. Warren proceed with her speech, which highlighted the story of black washerwomen who went on strike in Atlanta in 1881.
“We are grateful for your activism and your voice and you are welcome here, and we would love to convene after this about the issue that you are here to stoke our consciousness about,” Ms. Pressley said. “But when these women have been ignored this long, this is their moment, and we are going to hear the story.”
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