President Obama says "now is the time" to fix the nation's broken immigration system. Tuesday, he outlined his plans for comprehensive immigration reform while making a stop in Las Vegas.
"Right now we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, 11-million men and women from all over the world who live their lives in the shadows. Yes, they broke the rules, they crossed the border illegally, maybe they overstayed their visas, those are the facts, nobody disputes it," the president said. "The overwhelming majority of these individuals aren't looking for any trouble. They're contributing members of the community. They're looking out for their families. They're looking out for their neighbors. They're woven into the fabric of our lives."
The president proposed allowing immigrants to earn "provisional legal status" by registering, passing background checks and paying fees and penalties for living in the states illegally. They must also learn English. Those who qualify will have to get in line for permanent residency behind those immigrants already in the system. Years after receiving permanent residency, immigrants can apply for citizenship.
Bipartisan group of senators released their plans yesterday. They propose only creating a path to citizenship after increasing border security measures. Immigrants could qualify for "probationary legal status" allowing them to live and work in the U.S., but not qualify for legal benefits.
Here in Austin, those with close ties to the immigrant community are weighing in.
Montserrat Garibay became a legal citizen this past November.
"After 20 years, it's a big, big deal," Garibay said.
Garibay's mother brought her and her sister to Austin from Mexico when they were in middle school.
"My dad physically abused my mom throughout my childhood. And I remember. My mom just wanted us to get out of there and we wanted something better for us," she said tearfully.
Garibay went on to graduate from The University of Texas. She obtained a work visa and taught pre-k for AISD for the next eight years.
She is now vice-president of Education Austin, a local teacher's union. She continues fighting for those immigrants whose status is still pending.
"A lot of people have a misunderstanding that immigration reform is an amnesty," Garibay said. "I think we're all afraid of the unknown. The laws are here in the U.S. there are requirements."
She supports others jumping through the same hoops she had to, but feels it must be quicker.
Immigration attorney Raul Garcia shares the same opinion.
"They need to lay out a plan where it's reachable for immigrants; pay some sort of a fine, income taxes, then look at their background, if they have a clean criminal history allow them to get some sort of immediate legal status and not have to wait 8, 10 years," Garcia said.
Garcia says he has hundreds of local clients sitting in limbo.
"Congress can only give so many visas per year, green cards. Once they're gone, they're gone," he said.
He feels things can only get better from here.
"The fact that both parties now, the republicans and democrats agree that the system is broken and that something has to be done and they're now sitting at the negotiating table is great," Garcia said.
Josh Havens, spokesperson for Governor Rick Perry released the following statement about the president's plan:
"As someone who has been trying to get the federal government's attention on border issues for many years, the debate on immigration reform is way past due and it is good to see lawmakers once again making it a priority. Though we have yet to see the details of any legislation, Gov. Perry has made his position clear that securing the border must be the number one priority of any immigration plan and it must contain an iron-clad commitment to upholding the rule of law to ensure that those who have violated it are not rewarded for their lawlessness. Without these components, we cannot have a welcoming policy that both opens our doors and establishes the requirements for walking through those doors."