Community leaders on both sides of the immigration debate, however, agreed that the president’s plan didn’t stray much from a proposal outlined Monday by a bipartisan group in the Senate.
The fate of any sort of immigration reform will rely on the fine print, which is yet to be sorted out. Obama said he wants a program that would create a path to citizenship.
One key difference between both plans is that the Senate proposal says the federal government must first certify that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure before there is a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million who are in the country illegally.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer welcomed the border enforcement portion of the Senate plan, spokesman Matthew Benson said.
“The governor is very encouraged that for the first time in a long time there is bipartisan agreement that border security must be the linchpin in immigration reform, specifically before… a pathway to citizenship,” Benson said.
Pat Sexton, president of the Tucson chapter of the Arizona Latino Republican Assn., said she agrees that securing the border must come first but doesn’t believe citizenship should be given to the millions here illegally.
The 60-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, who is originally from Guatemala, said there is already a clear path to residency and eventual citizenship.
“The pathway is for them to go back to their country and do it the way it’s supposed to be done,” Sexton said.
Arizona immigrant rights leaders and community organizers said they were generally encouraged by Obama’s proposal, stating that the announcement is a testament to the growth and influence of Latinos in the country.
Latino voter turnout in November’s election likely played a key role in the renewed interest in addressing immigration reform, said Petra Falcón, executive director of Promise Arizona.
“That’s why we are at this moment right now,” she said.
Some called the proposals set forth by Obama and the group of senators a recycled endeavor.
“This is nothing new or novel,” John Hill, executive director of Stand With Arizona, said.
“It’s the same empty promises of 1986,” he added, referring the immigration bill signed by President Ronald Reagan. That legislation led to the legalization of about 2.7 million people.
Hill, who heads the Phoenix-based anti-illegal immigration group, said that law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, also pledged to secure the border and to compel employers to verify that job applicants were in the country legally. Neither effort, however, was enforced vigorously. Meanwhile, millions received legal status and millions more followed and remained in the country illegally, Hill said.
Since large Latino voter turnout in the November election, lawmakers have faced mounting pressure to confront immigration reform.
Promise Arizona, and other immigrant rights group in Arizona were part of a contingent of Latino advocacy groups in the state that made a huge push to register Latinos in Maricopa County, enrolling 34,000 who had never voted before.
These groups also signed up thousands of eligible Latinos to become permanent early voters, meaning they would be sent a mail-in ballot automatically in each election. In 2008, 90,000 Latinos were on the early voting list. In 2012, it increased to a record 225,000, according to Francisco Heredia, state director for Mi Familia Vota in Arizona.
Falcón said the plan is to mobilize the thousands they enrolled to vote and have them call and email their congressional representatives in Arizona to push for immigration reform.
“We are going to go back and knock on those doors…" she said. "We need to make sure that every day our members of Congress hear from us .. .to make sure we get our message out there.”
Hill said his group -- an estimated 240,000 members strong -- plans to do the same.
[For the Record, 8:51 a.m. Jan. 30: A previous version of this post stated that the anti-illegal-immigration group Stand With Arizona has an estimated 20,000 members. It has an estimated 240,000 members.]