The immigration reform debate has been simmering for years. While those in favor of reform are pleased to see the top move up on the president's list of priorities, they're also in a wait-and-see mode, wanting to know exactly what reform means. Mary Ann Ahern reports.
Immigration reform advocates in Chicago said they were "encouraged" by President Barack Obama's declaration Tuesday that "now is the time" to fix the nation's broken immigration laws.
About 30 people gathered at Casa Michoacan in Pilsen to watch live video of the president's remarks from a high school in Las Vegas.
"We're certainly encouraged by what the bipartisan group of senators did yesterday. We're happy that the president's leading on this issue," said Lawrence Benito, the CEO of The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "They're hearing what the mandate that Latino and immigrant voters said during the election. We want to see movement on immigration reform, and not just talk. We want to see it done this year."
In a five-page framework, Democratic and Republican Senators on Monday set out plans for creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here. Obama's plan largely mirrors the Senate proposal but does contain a few important differences.
The president outlined an immigration blueprint in May 2011 but exerted little political capital to get it passed in Congress.
Many, like Benito, have called the November election a turning point in the national conversation regarding immigration reform.
"It's all about the elections. So whether it's good public policy or it's good political will, we'll take it. But we want to see action this year," he said.
Benito expressed concern, however, that the president's plan didn't include strong enough language to ensure undocumented families aren't broken apart.
"We are still holding out on the details of what the enforcement measures mean," he said.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL 4th District) said the president told him during a meeting last Friday that immigration reform was his top priority.
"Indeed, after listening to the president today, I am reaffirmed that this is the president's top priority," he said. "Look, I understand that we didn't take action during the last four years. I raised my voice but today people are listening. And I think what we should do is celebrate and rejoice that help is on the way, and it cannot come too soon."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.