Los Angeles: US immigrant groups hailed President Barack Obama’s immigration reform plan on Tuesday, but vowed to maintain pressure for action, including by heading to Washington to make their voices heard.
Obama symbolically unveiled his long-awaited plan in Nevada, one of America’s states with a huge Latino population, generations of whom have come from across the southern border from Mexico.
“It was very positive, very powerful,” said Petra Falcon of the advocacy group Promise Arizona, in a US-Mexico border state with a 30 per cent Hispanic population, and known for its tough stance on immigration.
“I liked the fact that [Obama] talked about reuniting families. That is important,” she told AFP.
Her group plans to work with immigrant groups from other states to organise a caravan of buses, to leave in mid-February and arrive in the US federal capital in March.
Their aim will be “to put pressure on Congress to push through legislation... to make sure they don’t forget that we voted in 2012,” when Obama was re-elected to the White House, she added.
Member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as religious and other immigrant groups welcomed Obama’s plan to move over 11 million illegal immigrants slowly towards citizenship within stronger US borders.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (Naleo) said Obama’s plan and that of a bipartisan group of Senators presented the day before showed the emerging consensus.
“The president’s remarks demonstrate consensus on key immigration reform principles that will bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into the fold of our American democracy,” it said in a statement.
It added: “Immigrants and their families play a vital role in this country, and their full integration into the fabric of our civic life will help ensure our nation and its economy thrives for years to come.”
But they were not without criticism, notably for Obama’s vow to strengthen the border with Mexico and to put more pressure on employers to avoid hiring undocumented immigrants.
Obama’s address was “a ray of sunlight at the end of a long dark tunnel that has kept so many families in the shadows for more than two decades,” said the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (Chirla).
“We applaud [Obama’s] inclusion of gays and lesbians as members of the family unit and we agree with him that a path to citizenship should not become an insurmountable, extended ordeal,” added its head Angelica Salas, travelling with a campaign caravan in Las Vegas, where the president gave his speech.
But she added: “We are saddened to hear the President still believes ‘smart enforcement’ is a priority,” citing a figure of 1.5 million people deported over the last four years, as part of an “enforcement-heavy” policy.
“Immigration reform can move forward without any out of step triggers that threaten to separate more families and delay a path to citizenship indefinitely,” she said.
In an immigrant support centre in Los Angeles, some 30 community leaders gathered to watch Obama’s address on screen — and their reactions were less complimentary than others.
“That is what he declares, but it is not our struggle. It is not our dream,” said Mexican campaigner Susana Zamorano, of the Padres de Dreamers — parents of undocumented students — group.
“I am in the process of being legalised. My daughters are Dreamers, and I see their dreams and their frustrations when they can’t get access to education, health care or work,” the 46-year-old told AFP. “When they talk about putting more pressure on employers, what that means is more unemployment for us,” she said.