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Obama's Sweeping Immigration Reform Draws Mixed Reaction

LOS ANGELES ( —  Immigrants and activists who gathered across the Southland on Thursday night to watch President Barack Obama announce that he'll shield millions of people from deportation displayed quiet optimism and guarded emotion more than enthusiasm after watching the speech.

A large crowd gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center to watch the speech, displayed on a projector, before marching through the streets of Downtown L.A. in support of immigrants rights.

Immigration Rally Downtown LA
(credit: CBS)

The president's order would grant relief to immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are the parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents. Many immigrants in California have deeper roots than other states and could be the main beneficiaries of this plan.

The existing program that offers temporary protection for "Dreamers," young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, would also be expanded by eliminating the limit on the age of the people who qualify.

That means up to five million of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally could qualify.

"Today our hearts are warmed," said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. "Go home with a smile."

But Obama's plan got a more mixed reaction from activists in L.A.

Immigration attorney Vanessa Garcia said the required background checks under Obama's actions will mean "a lot of people are left out because they have one DUI from when they were 21 or whatever."

"We're happy that a lot of people are going to benefit from this, Garcia said. "But there's more work to be done still."

Ana Garcia, of the Central American Resource Center, said, "The five million people who are going to be protected, you know, parents of U.S. citizens who are not going to be afraid of going to work and not being afraid of being deported. But it's also bitter, because we know that the six other million people who are not going to be protected. And these are six million family members, community members, workers, who still live with that fear."

Javier Silva, 20, said he would no longer live in fear of being deported, and job opportunities would open. The junior at San Diego State University came to the country illegally when he was 4 years old and spent most of his life in Southern California except for a return to Mexico from 2005 to 2007. He would appear to be eligible for relief, as would his parents because his two younger brothers were born in the U.S.

"It's been a very emotional day," he said after the speech. "Bittersweet because a lot of the community will be left out."

Republicans slammed the president's action as an overreach, while advocates — including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and California Gov. Jerry Brown — praised Obama's plan.

The president responded to criticism by the GOP, who will soon control both houses of Congress, by throwing down the gauntlet: "To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: pass a bill."

In a video response on his website, House speaker John Boehner charges that the president is determined to go it alone on immigration.

He said, "Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he's acting on his own. That's just not how a democracy works. The president has said before that he's not king and he's not an emperor, but he's sure acting like one."

Pasadena Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu said Congress had a chance to act and failed: "I felt that this was a very significant step forward after 512 days of stalemate finally there is relief for these immigrants who have been in the shadows, and they have the ability to get a work permit."

Republic Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, of Huntington Beach, said Obama is on the wrong side of the issue and overstepping presidential boundaries.

"He's thumbing his nose at the law. He's trying to protect people who did thumb their nose at our law by coming here illegally," Rohrabacher said. "Now the president is thumbing his nose, saying 'Well, I can just create law, and give these people a right to have a workers permit in our country, who are here illegally.' He doesn't have the mandate from Congress to do that."

Republicans are discussing how to best respond to Obama's order. Currently, Democrats rule the Senate but that will change come January when the GOP becomes a majority in the Senate, along with the House of Representatives.

Related Story: Southland Groups Await White House Order On Immigration

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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