The would-be law student, brought to the United States as an infant, said the announcement meant that all members of her mixed-status immediate family in Nevada would finally be able to remain in the United States without fear of deportation.
“My face can pretty much tell it all,” she told Reuters at a Las Vegas party where she watched the announcement.
“It is going to completely change our lives.”
Obama’s immigration reform, which sets up a clash with Republicans, will ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants, mostly the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have lived in the United States for at least five years.
It was deeply felt in the Latino immigrant community in Las Vegas, where Obama will travel on Friday to discuss his plan at the high school where he first laid out his ideas for immigration reform two years ago.
Led by a moderate Republican governor of Mexican ancestry, Nevada has a higher proportion of unauthorized immigrants than any other U.S. state, at 7.6 percent of its population, according to a Pew Research Center study released this week.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, whose state already gives driving cards and in-state tuition privileges to undocumented immigrants, said Obama’s unilateral action would give “false hope” to millions of people awaiting more permanent immigration reform. He urged a bipartisan solution.
For Gamez, who has already benefited from Obama’s 2012 move to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, Thursday’s move will lift the threat of deportation for her mother because another daughter is a U.S. citizen. Her father is a legal permanent resident.
But Obama’s speech was bittersweet for some immigrants watching in Nevada because of sadness for relatives and friends still ineligible for relief that will allow others to apply legally for jobs and join American society.
Rafael Lopez, a university student with temporary status, said his parents would benefit from Obama’s policy because they have a child born in the United States. However, some of his mother’s siblings would not qualify for relief because they do not have a child who is a U.S. citizen.
“I don’t want my mother to be crying over her relatives,” said Lopez, who came to the United States from Mexico as a baby.
Republicans quickly complained that Obama had overstepped his constitutional powers a year after declaring he did not have the authority to act on his own, even as the president urged Republicans not to take steps against his plan that could lead to a government shutdown.
In Las Vegas, that opposition served to temper the joy in the audience. Some said they feared Obama’s reforms could be more easily revoked after he leaves office unless broader immigration reform is approved by Congress.
“We just have to keep pushing Congress,” said Erika Castro, a 25-year-old part-time student with temporary status who works as a cook in a Las Vegas casino. She said she is pushing her 17-year-old brother, a U.S. citizen, to register to vote once he is old enough. “The fight is not over.”
(Editing by Paul Tait)