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Immigrants anxious ahead of President's executive action

Immigration speech expected to affect 5 million lives

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SAN ANTONIO – After repeated calls for action, President Barack Obama defied Congress Thursday night with what's being called the most sweeping executive action on immigration in decades.

"The mood right now is tense anticipation," said Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

Also an immigration attorney, Ryan said the specifics for now are "pure rumor."

The details came during a presidential address Thursday evening and another speech Friday at the Las Vegas high school where the President promised he'd push for immigration reform during his second term.

Now it's expected 5 million undocumented immigrants could benefit from possibly being granted temporary legal status by the President in lieu of inaction by Congress.

Even so, Congressional leaders predict the President will regret his decision.

House Speaker-elect Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said, "It seems to be about what a political party thinks would make good politics. It seems to be what the President thinks would be good for his legacy."

But judging by what Ryan said he's heard, "It could be that your relationship with a U.S. citizen child is the determining factor, and/or the length of time you've been here in the U.S."

He said if so, it could take up to six months for the parents of U.S. citizens or residents to apply for work permits and potentially Social Security numbers.

Johana De Leon, a legal assistant at RAICES, said she is hearing mixed messages about what to expect. Brought to the U.S. as a child, De Leon said she's worried her parents will not see any relief.

She said for the past 14 years, they've worked and been underpaid for everything.

Yet De Leon said she was granted a temporary reprieve by the President's last executive action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is expected the President may expand DACA to 300,000 others by possibly lifting the current age limits.

De Leon said many people she knows over age 30 could be eligible.

Ryan said once the executive action takes effect, people will realize undocumented immigrants could be their neighbors, friends or attend the same church.

"That will have a profound effect and a change in the debate. It becomes more human," Ryan said.

He said it also may affect how the undocumented are treated, "with compassion or disdain."

But Ryan said the President's speech also may include elements of enforcement.

"We will see more military at the border. We will see more families in detention. We will see more families torn apart by deportation," Ryan said.

He said that message already has been made clear in Mexico and Central America in hopes of discouraging a rush to the border, besides new arrivals would not be covered by the President's executive action.