People watch President Barack Obama speak about immigration reform on a television monitor at a restaurant Tuesday in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo : Reuters)
The long-awaited push for changes to immigration policy in the U.S. looks ready to take flight after President Obama called for immigration reform Tuesday during the same week that a group of bipartisan U.S. senators presented a concrete plan for immigration reform.
"We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We've been debating this a very long time," said President Obama during his speech at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, a state with a booming Latino population.
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While the president mentioned the need to strengthen border security and crack down on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants. However, he added, "comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship."
He also warned Congress that they should pass a bill that can address the immigration question soon--or else, he would put forward his own plan, which was unveiled earlier this month.
"Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. But it's important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place," President Obama said. "And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away."
Across the nation, widespread reaction came for the plan, drawing praise and excitement from immigrants and skepticism and even anger from critics.
"It's a real reform" and a significant step, Mexican Sen. Marcela Guerra of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party told CNN.
At a watch party for the speech at Casa de Maryland, a non-profit immigrant advocacy group in Hyattsville, Md., immigrants welcomed the news with open arms.
"I'm really really happy. I'm happy with the announcement," said Ricardo Campos, who came to the US with his parents at age 12, and still doesn't have papers.
"I'm really happy," says Adelaide Tembe, who says she was abused by an employer who brought her to the US to clean her house.
And yet, she was willing to make sacrifices to achieve her dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. "I'm not lazy, I can work, so I can pay everything I have to."
However, critics were less than enthused.
"An amnesty bill will only hand 11 to 12 million illegal aliens, who are overwhelmingly government dependent, to the Democrats. There are signs Republicans are already split on the issue," says Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform."
Francisco Hernandez, an immigration lawyer, told Fox News' Sean Hannity that there was a misconception that a pathway to citizenship did not exist.
"We have a pathway to citizenship now. The problem is the entire system is broken. My grandfather came and got citizenship through the pathway. That pathway was through Ellis Island, took 14 years to be a naturalized citizen of the United States," he said.
Hernandez favored the bipartisan plan put forth by the "Group of Eight" senators, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rubio, a Tea Party Reublican of Cuban descent, said that he wanted any legislation on immigration that was based on the group's framework to feature tougher law enforcement mechanisms for immigration that included border security, workplace enforcement and a visa tracking system.
Otherwise, he would oppose a bill without those provisions, adding that ""nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place."
Hernandez said the bill was "a great start. I think what we have to do is proceed cautiously. But President Obama's plan is not Senator Rubio's plan, and we have to be really clear about that."
Pat Sexton, president of the Tucson chapter of the Arizona Latino Republican Assn., told the L.A. Times that she favored securing the border but opposed giving citizenship to the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.
"The pathway is for them to go back to their country and do it the way it's supposed to be done," Sexton said.