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Immigration Leaders Respond to President's Speech

Immigration reform advocates across the nation applauded President Obama Tuesday for taking leadership on creating a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

But they were also wary of the “nitty-gritty” details that have yet to emerge, and the focus on securing the border and the harsh enforcement that has torn apart so many families.

Some of the leading activists and immigration advocates around the country shared their thoughts.

Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights:

“This is the year that a humane immigration reform needs to happen. There’s no time for partisan games; the American people want and deserve a real and lasting solution that provides a path to citizenship with less focus on enforcement measures.  As the president said: Action must follow.”

Rich Stolz, director, OneAmerica, Seattle:

“The president today was clear that if Congress did not act in a timely manner, he would press the issue with his own bill. This is the year for immigration reform.  We are ready, and we’re committed to ensuring that any immigration reform bill fully embraces the principle of family unity and includes a roadmap to citizenship for those living and working in the United States without documentation.”

Angelica Salas, executive director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA):

“We are saddened to hear the President still believes ‘smart enforcement’ is a priority.  For the past decade, the United States has practiced only one single immigration policy:  enforcement-heavy.  In addition to the 1,580,359 immigrants deported during the past four years, many more families will be torn apart and never reunited if the mistaken notion of ‘back of the line’ continues to permeate our idea of fair and tough immigration laws.”

Evelyn Rivera, an undocumented youth from Columbia United We Dream:

“We are excited to see bipartisan work for immigration reform. We are thankful, but we are waiting for the actions and the nitty-gritty details of what this will look like. We are ready to be integrated into the American system.”

Lourdes Villanueva, director, Redland Christian Migrant Association, Immokalee, Florida:

“Every little traffic stop immediately puts them into deportation proceedings, and it’s the small children who are left behind.  We hope finally there will be a way for people to get legal status. We have to all be realistic about our broken system.  We need a system that will work for families.”

Sandy Stein, owner of The Jungle Nursery, Homestead, Florida:

“Agriculture would not exist in Florida without the immigrant population. It makes no sense from a business point of view to carry on as we have.  I am afraid to be hopeful, so many times we have been on the edge and then seen nothing happen at all – only greater fear.”

Ai-jen Poo, director of National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of Caring Across Generations:

On ideas in the Senate:

“America’s leaders have an historic opportunity to create a new day for millions of aspiring Americans. What undocumented immigrants need is a clear road to citizenship, not an obstacle course. We must not punish the immigrant workers who America’s economy clearly counts on. We must work to keep all of our families together. And we must not turn our already-secure border into a savage border.”

On the President’s blueprint:

“This road needs to be open to all who dream of a better life in the United States — not just those with advanced degrees….Millions of new American immigrants work in this country every single day, caring for our children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. It is imperative that the domestic workforce be given the chance to step out of the shadows and continue the work they do every day to make all work in this nation possible.  The demand for these workers is growing and they represent an amazing opportunity to strengthen our economy and transform the way we care for ourselves and each other.”

Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM):

“This new reform would focus on keeping families together and a more humane approach to the broken immigration system….COFEM will continue to remind the President and Congress of all the people who are making this country a better place with all their contributions, but yet don’t have a sense of identity and live in the shadows. COFEM is committed to ensuring that  this important issue is not put in the backburner like it has been for the past few years.”

Note: This summary of reactions was updated on Feb. 1, 2013 to include additional feedback from community groups. 

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