DENVER (CBS4) - About 64,000 illegal immigrants living in Colorado will be affected by President Barack Obama's controversial plan that will dramatically alter the nation's immigration system.
In a live primetime address to the nation, Obama unveiled a process that would allow nearly 5 million immigrants living illegally in the United States to stay as long as they register, pass background checks and pay taxes.
Qualifying immigrants must have children who were born in the country, are lawful permanent residents, or were brought into the country illegally before Jan. 1, 2010, and have lived here for at least five years. There are more than 90,000 immigrants living in Colorado who will not be shielded by Obama's change in policy.
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In Denver, immigration activists hailed the address.
Hundreds viewed the president's address at watch parties across the metro area Thursday night.
"Up until tonight we were seeing a system that was deporting 1,100 people every day, and we had children who were, frankly, afraid to go home from school because they were fearful their parents wouldn't be there. Today that is changing," said Patty Kupfer of America's Voice, an immigrants rights group.
At a watch party, immigrant Jorge Jimenez wept and was overwhelmed by the president's action that could save him from deportation.
"That fear of living every day not knowing what can happen, not knowing if we can go home is really hard," he said.
Jimenez has lived in the United States since 1998. He has a son in the military and a daughter at an American university. The auto worker says for the first time in 16 years he won't be afraid when he sees a police officer.
"This issue is extremely important to me because everyone that I know in my entire life is directly affected," immigration activist Ana Temu said shortly before the president's address.
But Roman Madera doesn't qualify because he doesn't have children.
"For me this is home," Madera said.
Temu said people like Madera shouldn't be dismayed.
"It shouldn't discourage people because they aren't going to be able to apply. It should only motivate them to come and join the fight," she said.
While the president wants to increase border security, he said he's interested in deporting felons, not families.
"If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you're a criminal, you'll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up," Mr. Obama said.
Republicans not only criticized Obama's approach but said it's an illegal power grab.
In a written statement, House Speaker John Boehner said, "By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left."
But the president said he believes he's acting within the law.
"The actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century," he said.
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