Supporters gather during a rally organized by OneAmerica as part of a National Week of Action to demand robust executive measures to stop deportations and keep families together Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.
(AP) Emotions ran high as immigrant-rights activists, families and elected officials across the country watched President Barack Obama's televised announcement on immigration reform.
As advocates praised the president's plans and Republicans slammed his action as an overreach, community organizations and friends held watch parties to listen to the president's speech Thursday evening — including about a dozen groups who watched on a large screen in the streets of downtown Los Angeles
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. 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 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. 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 dissention in 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.
"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.