After Obama’s order, Colorado’s undocumented immigrants ready to ‘get out of the shadows’

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Photo: Obama immigration announcement reax
Lupe Santibanez, right, watches President Barack Obama's address at an event hosted by immigration reform advocates at a Denver restaurant Thursday.

For Colorado's immigration reform advocates, President Barack Obama’s announcement last night that he will be shielding millions of people from deportation called for a party.

Around a hundred people packed a Mexican restaurant near the state Capitol to watch the speech, cheering and occasionally tearing up as the president outlined his plan.

“We definitely feel that this was a battle won, but yet not the war,” said Ana Temu, a Metro State student whose stepfather is in the country illegally.

An estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants call Colorado home. Jorge Jimenez is among them. He arrived in the country from Mexico more than 25 years ago and has children who are American citizens.

“Now I’m going to be able to get a work permit and get out of the shadows and not live in fear anymore,” said Jimenez after the address. “The fact that I’ll be able to go home every night to my kids without the fear of ending up in jail or in deportation is a huge relief.”

Colorado Republicans ticked off

But as relieved as advocates are feeling, Obama’s actions have Colorado’s Congressional Republicans seeing red.

In a statement, Sen.-elect Cory Gardner warned Obama has “severely undermined what little trust remains between the legislative and executive branches.”

Incoming Rep. Ken Buck is critical of Congress for not passing meaningful immigration reform before now, but calls Obama’s actions a mistake.

“The people elected a new Congress and the president should have waited and allowed the new Congress to take action,” said Buck, “and I can tell you the new Congress will take action now.”

Buck also warns that the executive order is likely to have unintended consequences.

“Every time [Obama] moves to loosen this country’s immigration laws unilaterally, and doesn’t combine that with border security, he is creating a magnet in this country for more people to come here illegally,” Buck said.

Buck says he wants to see Congress pass a guest worker program and do more to secure the border. Obama's order does call for a "command and control" campaign along the U.S.-Mexico border, although details have yet to be released.

Immigration court's load lightened

One place where the president’s order is likely to have an immediate effect in Colorado is the state’s immigration court, which currently has a four-year-long backlog.

Of the 8,800 people in the system right now, a lot of them may qualify the president’s program.

“It will lighten the load of the immigration court and make it more efficient, in terms of deporting people who should be deported” such as those with criminal records, says Denver immigration attorney Nancy Elkind.

Elkind says she expects to field a lot of calls in the coming days from undocumented immigrants wanting to take advantage of the program.