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President Obama Lays Out Expansive Immigration Reform Plan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - President Barack Obama told the American people Thursday night that the time to change the nation's immigration system is now, and he's taking action to make that happen.

As CBS2's Tracee Carrasco reported, Obama is side-stepping Congress and using his executive power to make the changes.

In a nationally-broadcast address from the White House, Obama said it doesn't make sense to round up and deport millions of people living in the country illegally. He said his plan will let them come out of the shadows, but it's not anything close to amnesty.

Web Extra: Watch President Obama Lay Out His Immigration Reform Plan

The president announced that those who have been in America for more than five years or have children who are American citizens or legal residents and register, pass a criminal background check, and are willing to pay taxes will be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation.

Obama's plan will shield from deportation nearly 5 million immigrants now in the U.S. illegally – including the parents of children born in the U.S., and those who have been in the country for more than five years.

However, the plan would leave the fate of millions more unresolved. With more than 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, Obama's actions would not offer specific protections to more than half.

The plan will also grant work permits, and extend the DREAM Act program for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

"If you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes - you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation," Obama said.

Obama says that although there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children coming across the border over the summer, overall the number of people trying to cross the border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s.

"That's the real amnesty - leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I'm describing is accountability - a commonsense, middle ground approach," he said.

Obama added: "The actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century. And 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.''

At a viewing party in Chelsea, many cheered optimistically after Obama's remarks. Among them was undocumented immigrant Jung Rae Jung, who came to America in 2005 from South Korea.

"We believe that it will give hope to the people who is in fear of deportation and people who wish to contribute to society," Jung said.

Carlos Rojas' father is undocumented and worried he might get picked up.

"It's living every day with that fear," he told WCBS 880's Jim Smith.

President Obama Lays Out Expansive Immigration Reform Plan

But after organizing a President Obama watch party for parishioners at Sacred Heart Church in New Brunswick and hearing the president's plan, he thinks his father might qualify.

Rojas said he's excited immigration reform is finally happening, but still wants to see the fine print and how much it will cost.

"My girls were born here so they don't want to go live in Mexico," another woman at the watch party told WCBS 880.

For seven years, Daisy Ramirez has been in the U.S. after immigrating from Guatemala.

"She has an 11-year-old child. She came through the border four months ago so she's hoping President Obama will give relief to all the children," a translator said Thursday afternoon, speaking on Ramirez's behalf.

"For her, the most important is her children," the translator told WCBS 880's Levon Putney.

Ramirez said she's hopeful Obama can take action to keep her and her family together after seven years apart.

"And that's what we should want in America right? Families not to be separated," Jackie Zapata said, with Morristown-based advocate group Wind of the Sprit.

Zapata says the group has fought for too many immigrants like Ramirez who have been deported.

"It's heartbreaking. These are families, these are people's emotions, these are people's lives," Zapata said.

President Obama To Outline Plan For Immigration Reform In Thursday Night Speech

Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement in support of Obama's plan.

"New York City firmly stands behind the President and is ready to do all that is in our power to help ensure the successful implementation of his plan," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement released Thursday night following Obama's speech.

The mayor also said that although the president's promises are passionate, it is not a long-term, permanent solution to the issue of immigration.

"Now the Congress must continue what the President started – make lasting changes to widen criteria for more undocumented immigrants to qualify for legal status and act according to our society's highest values," the statement reads.

But the plan also met with some heated criticism. Outside the Chelsea viewing party, protesters held up signs in opposition to Obama's plan, and accused the president of abusing his power.

"I think we should secure our borders first, and if the president wants to deal with immigration he has to go to Congress," said protester Tim Rosen. "He can't act like a tyrant."

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Obama is going about the issue all wrong.

"I'm opposed to the entire concept of an executive order," King said. "This has to be done through Congress with the president signing it at the end."

The vehement reactions of many Republicans, who will have control of Congress come January, made clear that Obama was courting a serious partisan confrontation.

"Congress will act," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned on the Senate floor Thursday, hours before Obama's address.

Obama "will come to regret" his action, McConnell said. "We're considering a variety of options. But make no mistake. When the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act."

Some on the right pushed for using must-pass spending legislation to try to stop Obama's effort. One lawmaker, Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, raised the specter of impeachment.

Party leaders warned against such talk and sought to avoid spending-bill tactics that could lead to a government shutdown. They said such moves could backfire, alienating Hispanic voters and others.

In a closed-door meeting with other Senate Republicans, McConnell urged restraint. Still, there were concerns among some Republicans that the potential 2016 presidential candidates in the Senate would use the announcement to elevate their standing, challenging Obama directly.

"This is not the way we want to proceed. It will not solve the problem permanently," White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Thursday on MSNBC.

None of those affected by Obama's actions would have a direct path to citizenship, and his actions could be reversed by a new president after he leaves office. Moreover, officials said the eligible immigrants would not be entitled to federal benefits, including health care tax credits, under Obama's plan.

Some immigrant advocates worried that even though Obama's actions would make millions eligible for work permits, not all would participate out of fear that Republicans or a new president would reverse the executive orders.

"If the reaction to this is that the Republicans are going to do everything they can to tear this apart, to make it unworkable, the big interesting question will be, will our folks sign up knowing that there is this cloud hanging over it," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.

Still, Democrats battered by election losses two weeks ago welcomed Obama's steps.

"The last two weeks haven't been great weeks for us,'' said Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, one of 18 congressional Democrats who had dinner Wednesday night with Obama. ``The president is about to change that.''

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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