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Obama's immigration order gets mixed reaction in Chicago area

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Area Republicans are calling the president's action "amnesty" and "illegal." But some who gathered to watch the president's speech had a different take. (WLS)

President Obama's executive order will give temporary, three-year legal status to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants. Nearly all are the parents and families of U.S. citizens who have been in the country more than five years and have no criminal records.

Area Republicans are calling the president's action "amnesty" and "illegal." But on Thursday night, some who gathered to watch the president's speech had a different take.

This has been an emotional night for people who feared change may never come. In Pilsen, the president's action elicited tears and an outpouring of emotion.

"I cried myself. I never thought this would happen," said Dale Asis, who has relatives who are undocumented. "There's still a lot of work that we have to do to continue to support the people who will not qualify for this."

But millions could qualify. Liz Marquez, 10, was born here and is a citizen, but her father, who's been here for several years, is undocumented.

"It would mean that he could become a citizen and that we don't have to live in fear no more," said Marquez.

Chicago-area Republicans are blasting the president's action.

In a statement, the Illinois GOP Congressional Delegation called it: "...a lawless move that will ultimately do much more harm than good. We believe Congress should take the lead on immigration reform..."

"He's basically saying to the American public, "I don't care what you think. I don't care what the election results are. I'm going to go my own way," said U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam.

But supporters of the president say he was motived by principle, not politics.

"The president is using his executive authority to protect families and strengthen America's security and economy," U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said in a YouTube video.

"I think that he tried to make it as simple as possible for people to understand that these are families," said Jose Lopez, League of United Latin American Citizens.

Just last year, the President said he did not have the legal authority to take the action he announced Thursday night. The White House now says the law is squarely on the President's side.

"I told him the actions that he is about to take are courageous and necessary to save millions of American families from the destructive forces of our broken immigration system," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

Congressman Gutierrez was invited to the White House Wednesday night to hear firsthand about Obama's plan that may affect up to five million undocumented immigrants, though it will not affect an estimated seven million others. The focus of the plan is to allow illegal parents of U.S. citizens who have lived here for at least five years to remain in the US. But they must register with the government, pay a fee, pay back taxes and pass a background check.

"Are they entitled to government programs? No. But they can legally work in America. Period," said Sen. Dick Durbin. "That is what the president is proposing. That, to me, is humane."

"If they come back with a clean bill of health, get a work permit pay taxes and act with accountability, what is wrong with that? " Gutierrez said.

Many republicans believe there is plenty wrong with the president's executive action.

"We are going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path," said House Speaker John Boehner.

"The president is not above the law, whether Nixon or President Obama," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

But, immigration legal experts say the president is not going above the law. DePaul University's Allison Brownell-Tirres says while providing amnesty is beyond presidential executive powers, the immigration law allows for Obama's proposed action to delay deportation.

"It's very much as short-term discretionary move to provide limited ability to work not to be pursued for deportation," Brownell-Tirres said.

The executive order will not take effect for another six months. The president is giving time for Congress to act instead with legislation.

Obama is not the first president to use his executive power for immigration reform. The last three Republican presidents have done it. However, not on such a large scale as Obama's plan.

Some in the Chicago area hope the president's plan will lead to a better life for them and their families, yet some activists say this order is still a long way from immigration reform.

In addition to working two jobs to support her family, 39-year-old Mayra Sarabria also does volunteer work with the Southwest Organizing Project, an activist group that advocates on behalf of a number of issues affecting the immigrant community.

She came to the US from Mexico 22 years ago and has three children who were born in this country. She is expected to be one of the undocumented residents who will be covered by President Obama's executive order.

"This is gonna be a huge change for people like me," Sarabria said. "I will be able to work legally."

Right now she says her employers pay her in cash, and even though she's not legally able to hold a job because of her status, she pays taxes on her income. That could all change after Obama's plan.

There is also a buzz around the office at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). They say they have been waiting for the president to do something on immigration since he took office six years ago.

At the coalition office they are preparing to help undocumented residents prepare their applications once the process gets underway, even as they continue to push for full immigration reform.

"There's a segment of individuals who will be able to benefit from this and we know that there's a lot who won't," said Ruth Lopez of ICIRR. "So we continue to celebrate but also think about what's next."

Sarabria is also concerned about friends who may not be covered. But at least for now, this will ease her children's concerns about the threat of their mother being deported.

"That's gonna be taken away, there's no more risk of deportation," she said.

ICIRR is warning undocumented residents to be patient and wait for the details to come out. They also said that people need to avoid scammers who ask for money to arrange legal resident status.

Chicago's new archbishop welcomes the president's executive action, but Cardinal Blase Cupich says it is not a final fix. He hopes Obama's plan will force Congress to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform package.

"It's been a long time coming, it's frustrating things are not moving forward," Archbishop Blase Cupich said.

Related Topics:
politicsimmigrationimmigration reformcongressu.s. & worldbarack obamasenateChicago - Pilsen
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