PHOENIX Student Maxima Guerrero welcomed Democratic President Barack Obama's drive to give millions of illegal immigrants like her a pathway to U.S. citizenship on Tuesday, saying it cannot come soon enough for many in the tough-on-immigration state of Arizona.
"It was a good step forward," said Guerrero, 22, a student in Phoenix. But one speech will not stop deportations, which are separating some local children from their parents, who entered the country illegally, she said.
Brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents at age 5, Guerrero watched Obama's push for a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents with caution.
Speaking to a cheering crowd in neighboring Nevada, Obama said he would let the undocumented get on a path to citizenship if they undergo national security and criminal background checks, pay penalties, learn English and get behind those foreigners seeking to immigrate legally.
Arizona, a border state, has been embroiled in a fight over immigration since 2010, when Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed a law cracking down on illegal immigrants that set her on a collision course with the White House. To illegal immigrants in the state, Obama's promise is no longer enough.
"It brings hope. I am happy to see action," said Michael Nazario, 24, an undocumented Mexican immigrant living in Phoenix. "But until I see comprehensive immigration reform being signed by the president, I won't be (celebrating)," he added.
While pledging reform, Obama's administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants, focusing on lawbreakers.
PATIENCE WEARING THIN
Arizona state law requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop, if police suspect they are in the country illegally. Some immigrants in Phoenix say they can be detained for an offense as small as driving with a broken taillight. Their patience is wearing thin.
"We've heard it before," said graphic designer Carla Chavarria, 20, who watched Obama's televised address in the Phoenix's heavily Hispanic Grant Park neighborhood. "But it would give me a chance to live the dream I've hoped for after all this time, and continue with my education and help my parents out," added Chavarria, who said she would go to college in California if she was granted citizenship.
The president's speech came a day after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators endorsed a plan offering a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, if the Mexico border is secured first.
Young immigrants in Phoenix remained skeptical about renewed interest from Republicans, who are still smarting from Obama's re-election with overwhelming support from Latino voters.
"Are Republicans really doing it for the benefit of society? Or are they just looking out for themselves for re-election?" said Lily Canedo, 26, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
"At this point, I wouldn't say 'yes' or 'no' to a Republican or Democrat. But I have seen more input and a little more on the positive side toward the undocumented from the Democrats," she added.
Mindful of the Republican-backed state crackdown on illegal immigrants, and drives by controversial Republican Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to target the undocumented, economics student Gustavo Lopez, 21, was clear he would not support them if he one day gained citizenship.
"I would vote Democrat," said Lopez, who was brought to Arizona as a child from Mexico. "Republicans have always been pushing for anti-immigrant reforms, and I remember that."
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)