The crowd, at first, was eager. Members of Charlotte’s Hispanic community gathered Thursday night to watch President Obama announce changes in the enforcement to America’s immigration laws. As for the mood after the speech? That varied from person to person.
To say the room at the Latin American Coalition was packed is an understatement. Around 75 people poured in. Those who could, sat in chairs, others stood where they could or sat on the floor near the screen where the president’s speech would be projected.
Just before the president was to start his remarks, the crowd grew quiet. Their nerves were on display when a staff member accidently clicked past the White House website just as the president started to speak. The crowd gasps, and is then quickly relieved when the mistake is corrected.
Some couples held hands, mothers and fathers held their children and a few whispered translations as President Obama announced a plan to defer deportation for an estimated 5 million people in the country illegally.
"Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom that’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize just like law enforcement does everyday," they heard President Obama say.
The crowd politely applauded when the president finished. They all had a stake in what was said, says the Latin American Coalition's Armando Bellmas.
"It affects everyone in that room from the folks who are undocumented to the people who live with someone who’s undocumented," he says.
And they all seemed to have questions. Some were brought to tears.
Jorge Acosta was brought to the U.S. from Mexico by his parents when he was 2 months old. He’s a so-called Dreamer, given deferred deportation status under a 2012 executive action by President Obama. For Acosta, the president's announcement was overwhelming.
"I’m really happy because some of my friends' parents and my cousin’s parents can apply, so that’s something."
But Acosta’s own mother does not qualify.
"Today, my momma has been calling me non-stop wondering what’s going to happen, and I have to tell her that she can't get anything yet."
Under President Obama’s plan, immigrants in the country illegally who are parents of U.S. citizens, have no criminal records and have lived in the country for at least five years can apply for a deferred deportation – where they would not be deported for three years.
Thirty-six-year-old Rausel Arista, originally from Mexico, should be celebrating that news. He has two kids, both U.S citizens.
"I’ve been here 15 years. I have no criminal record. I’ve been paying my taxes."
But he has doubts.
"I don’t know yet because we have to look and see the details."
Arista and others can apply for the program next spring. If the program is still in effect after Republicans gain control of both the House and Senate in January. Many GOP leaders responded last night by saying they are looking at ways to stop this immigration plan before it begins. For one, 9th District Congressman Robert Pittenger called the president’s move an egregious violation of the constitution. He says the president is exercising power that only belongs to Congress.