At a rally in front of the Mexican Consulate in downtown Los Angeles, Citlali Gomez was cautiously optimistic.
The 34-year-old came to the U.S. 12 years ago and started a family. Life is better in America, she said, though she fears driving and entering government buildings. Her cousin was deported.
"We're going to leave the darkness," Gomez said. "We're going to stop being scared."
Across Southern California, people reacted similarly to Obama's pledge to offer deportation reprieves to as many as 5 million immigrants now in the country illegally.
"Our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it," Obama said in a national address.
For Gomez, Obama's plan could give her a new career. In Mexico she worked as a nurse, but here she cleans houses. She says she'd welcome the chance to take up her old profession.
"I want to better my life," Gomez said. "I don't want to stay in the same situation."
Outside a federal prison in downtown Los Angeles, several hundred immigrant activists gathered to watch Obama's speech on a massive screen erected for the occasion.
The group hosting the event, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, has been holding a weekly protest concerts outside the prison because it sometimes holds people facing criminal charges for illegal reentry to the U.S. after being deported.
The activists booed after the speech concluded. The group had called on the administration to stop deportations against everyone, even immigrants convicted of crimes.
While the organization welcomes Obama's extension of relief to the parents of U.S.-born children and certain other demographics, Pablo Alvarado, the director of the group, says it is not enough. He encouraged the crowd to remember "the person walking through the desert right now."
"We will not rest until everyone is free," he called out through a loudspeaker.
The 27-year-old engineering student did not qualify for deportation relief under Obama's old plan because she came to the U.S. at 17, and relief was offered only to those who came at 16 or younger. She will qualify for the expanded version.
"Finally," Martha said. "Finally. This means I'm going to be able to get an internship. This means I'm going to be able to get a real job."
At Mexico Plaza in Lynwood, others were disappointed with the program's limits. Luis Garcia and his 72-year-old mother watched the president's speech translated into Spanish from a small TV on their shopping cart as Garcia took notes with a black Sharpie.
"As a Latino, as a Mexican, I'm saddened that this isn't going to affect everyone," Garcia said in Spanish. "But it's a first good step."
The 50-year-old permanent resident came to the U.S. in 1987 from Mexico. He said he owes his legal status to Ronald Reagan. But Obama's administrative action will benefit several of his friends whose children were born here.
"I haven't spoken to them yet," he said. "But I know they've been looking for this day."
At the offices of the Korean Resource Center in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, S.J. Lee breathed a sigh of relief as Obama's speech concluded.
He came to the U.S. 13 years ago with his parents to explore the sights of California, and he never left. When his tourist visa expired, he worried constantly about his immigration status. He got married, had two children, and lived in fear.
"It has been really difficult for us to uphold our family traditions and feel comfortable when we're out in public," the Buena Park salesman said.
"The president's reassurances give us a bit of hope because he's showing that he cares. He understands this is not an issue affecting just Latinos," he added.