Thousands of immigrant-rights activists, families and elected officials cheered across the country as President Barack Obama announced on television his plan for relief from deportations for about five million people.
But after the initial burst of emotion Thursday evening at hastily organized watch parties and in living rooms, many said Obama’s plan was just the first step in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant families pointed out the plan would only cover about 5 million of the 11 million without status, leaving many families and individuals in limbo.
Republicans slammed the president’s action as an overreach, while advocates — including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and California Gov. Jerry Brown — praised Obama’s plan.
Earlier Thursday, advocates held rallies in support of the plan, including one outside a federal building in Seattle that featured a series of speeches from politicians, activists, and immigrants. A couple of protesters held “no amnesty” signs outside a New York union office where advocates of the president’s expected plan watched the speech.
Lawyers and immigrant-rights groups are already planning legal clinics and outreach efforts to inform immigrants about the new options and warn them about potential scams. Up to five million people could be granted relief under Obama’s plan.
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, for example, said it will launch a text-messaging system targeting immigrants around the state and will use Skype to help immigrants living in rural areas
Not everyone was happy with Obama’s planned action. A Northern California sheriff harshly criticized the president’s approach after the recent fatal shootings of two deputies. A group of Utah business leaders said Thursday that the country’s immigration system needs to be fixed, but Obama’s plans will hamper any permanent solutions from Congress.
The following is a snapshot of reactions from people across the country:
“This will definitely help our family no longer live in fear, fear that we will have to drop everything if our parents are deported. But there is still fear, because this is a temporary, and we need something permanent,” said Isaura Pena, 20, of Portland whose father and mother lack legal status.
“This is how we get ready to fight for the many excluded ones, to fight for every immigrant worker in this country. We are America. And to those Democrats and Republicans, to opinion-makers and to those who are listening: The time is now. Our country is ripe what is right. Let’s do what is right: Let’s get immigration reform,” said 32 BJ Service Employees International Union President Hector Figueroa at a watch party in the union’s New York City office.
“This is a great day for farmworkers. It’s been worth the pain and sacrifice,” said Jesus Zuniga, 40, who picks tomatoes in California’ Central Valley and watched the speech at a union gathering in Fresno.
“Simply stated, you’re the only singular person in this entire country that can advance or adopt meaningful immigration reform. By that very definition then, it is your singular failure alone as to why we do not yet have reform, why America continues to be at risk, and new crimes and new victims are mounting each and every day in every single state,” said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, addressing the president directly in the video posted by his office Wednesday on YouTube. Jones vowed to crusade against illegal immigration after the shooting rampage last month by a Mexican man with a long criminal history who was in the country illegally.
“They’re going to have a chance to be what they want to be and get an education,” said Maria Perez, 41, of Fresno, California. She is documented, but she often worries about her nieces, ages 16 and 18, who aren’t. With the president’s speech, she feels hope that her nieces now can achieve her dreams.
“I believe that is a good step forward, but again I look at the other side and I believe he is maybe acting too rash. I don’t know why he is doing it without the consent of Congress … I think that is creating too much dissension Congress where it is already, and I don’t know if that is necessarily a good thing. I think for a lot of people — especially those who are here undocumented — it is great, but at some point we have to draw the line,” said community activist Bob Hernandez of Wichita, Kansas.
“I don’t think it helps because it’s going to create friction with the new Congress that’s Republican. While I think it’s probably the wrong thing for him to do, there’s a possibility it starts a dialogue and pushes the Republicans to move more quickly,” Overstock.com board chairman Jonathan Johnson said at his company’s Salt Lake City, Utah headquarters.
“We have a lot of unemployed Americans right now, and I don’t understand why unemployed Americans can’t be hired to do the jobs these illegals are doing,” said John Wilson, who works in contract management in New York City.