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Metro families say plan may lift them from 'shadows'

Candice WilliamsThe Detroit News
Michigan United’s Adonia Flores addresses the crowd at El Nacimiento Restaurant in SW Detroit on Thursday.

As President Barack Obama announced his plan Thursday night to address what he called the country's "broken immigration system," dozens of Metro Detroiters affected by immigration policies gathered at a southwest Detroit restaurant, watching with anticipation.

The group of 50, including those here illegally and their American families, heard news they said could lift their families out of limbo.

"These people will not have to live in the shadows and be scared," said Cindy Garcia, 42, a Lincoln Park resident whose husband, Jorge, 35, has lived in the country illegally since his aunt brought him here when he was 10. He's had two stays of deportation, and Cindy Garcia said her family is afraid he'll have to stay in Mexico when he has to report to the consulate in the upcoming months.

"I hope our family qualifies," she said of Obama's plan.

It's particularly hard for the couple's children, Soleil, 11, and Jorge, 9, who fear their father will be deported at any moment, Cindy Garcia said at the watch party hosted by Michigan United at El Nacimiento on Vernor Highway.

"The kids didn't want to go to school," she said. "They just want to be around him. Any time they hear a knock on the door they panic."

Brushing aside Republican outrage, Obama ordered far-reaching changes to the nation's immigration laws that will allow nearly 5 million people here illegally to avoid deportation. The administration is also setting new enforcement priorities that could make it easier for many more to stay.

In a statement Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, reiterated that he believes the United States needs comprehensive immigration reform and asked that the "White House and Congress work together on an innovative approach that will address our country's present needs as well as those long into the future."

Snyder said he's "calling on Washington to act on Michigan's request to have 50,000 visas for immigrants to put down roots and build their lives and careers in Detroit."

"It's a plan supported by (Detroit) Mayor Mike Duggan and other city leaders, and, together, we believe it will help the city – and all Michigan – grow and thrive," he said.

The Michigan Republican Party quickly denounced Obama's actions Thursday night.

"For six years, President Obama correctly stated he does not have the authority to issue this kind of executive order — President Obama should take his own advice," said party chairman Bobby Schostak. "There is a limit to what a president can do; this goes outside those bounds and sets a dangerous precedent ..."

In an email sent to GOP supporters after the speech, Schostak, calling Obama "king and emperor," wrote "after 238 years of democracy, President Obama has decided to throw it all away."

Schostak then used the email to solicit for donations to the Michigan Republican Party.

"Just 16 days after sweeping mid-term elections, the president is ignoring the will of the people by issuing an executive order on immigration," Schostak wrote. "Help us show Obama that he is over stepping his role as president with a contribution.

But others, like U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, disagreed that Obama doesn't have the authority to make the sweeping changes.

"His executive actions fall well within the clear legal authority of his office and will help to secure our borders while also providing relief to millions of hard-working and law-abiding immigrant families across America," Kildee said Thursday night. "President Obama is not the first president to issue executive orders related to immigration. ..."

Kildee said while Obama's actions "will make a broken immigration system work better, it will not fix the underlying problems that can only be solved by Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform."

Experts say Michigan's population of immigrants living in the country illegally is smaller but more diverse than elsewhere.

That means changes to U.S. immigration policy Obama announced Thursday night will affect more than just those who come from Latin American countries. That's the dominant community in many other states.

The largest group of those in Michigan illegally comes from Mexico. But many also hail from India, Iraq and China.

For Margaret Gonzalez, 52, whose husband Juan, 48, was deported two years ago, the executive action by Obama leaves her optimistic that families like hers will reunite here.

"I'm hoping the president will allow them to come back and wait until they get their day in court," said Gonzalez of Huron Township.

Associated Press contributed.