05:39 - Source: CNN
An immigrant's reaction to Obama's plan

Story highlights

NEW: President Obama unveils his plan for executive action in a speech

NEW: Some are stunned, others overjoyed about Obama's immigration plan

NEW: "I want to cry tears of happiness," a mom from Mexico says

NEW: "I can't celebrate this," one man says, knowing so many were left out

(CNN) —  

The parties activists organized to watch President Barack Obama’s immigration speech were supposed to be festive affairs.

But Felipe Diosdado said he didn’t feel much like smiling Thursday night, even though Obama’s new plan will give him a chance to avoid deportation and find a better job.

People pack the offices of immigration advocacy group Make the Road in New York on Thursday to watch President Obama's speech.
Miguel Marquez/CNN
People pack the offices of immigration advocacy group Make the Road in New York on Thursday to watch President Obama's speech.

“People are crying,” he told CNN in a phone interview from Chicago. “I can’t celebrate this, because there are a lot of people left out.”

The White House estimates nearly 5 million people will benefit from Obama’s new executive action. But that’s less than half of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, Diosdado said.

Before the highly anticipated speech Thursday night, reactions were already mixed – even among the millions of people directly affected by his announcement.

The President’s plan to bypass Congress is a controversial move that has riled Republican leaders who say Obama is overstepping his constitutional bounds. It has also come under fire from those who want a more extensive overhaul and drawn swift opposition from critics, who call it an unfair amnesty that rewards lawbreakers.

After the speech, confusion surrounding what comes next showed no sign of slowing. Cheers erupted at a rally outside the White House. Some people seemed stunned; others, overjoyed.

“I want to cry tears of happiness,” said Maya Ledezma, a 32-year-old mom from Mexico who watched the speech at a party in Maryland.

"I want to cry tears of happiness," says Maya Ledezma, an undocumented immigrant shown here at a demonstration outside the White House.
Courtesy Casa de Maryland
"I want to cry tears of happiness," says Maya Ledezma, an undocumented immigrant shown here at a demonstration outside the White House.

Because her 6-year-old daughter is a U.S. citizen and she’s been in the United States for more than five years, Ledezma is among the millions who Obama said can step out of the shadows if they submit to a background check and pay back taxes.

After years of living in constant fear of being deported, she said Obama’s announcement gave her hope that she will watch her daughter grow up and succeed.

“This is a great relief,” she said, “a victory, an obstacle that we have overcome.”

’My head hurts’

At another watch party in Washington, Jose Luis Zelaya said his head was spinning. For years, the Honduran immigrant has been on the front lines of immigration activism in the United States, pushing for reforms in Washington while continuing his graduate studies at Texas A&M University, where he also ran for student body president.

Jose Luis Zelaya says he's disappointed President Obama's new plan won't help his mother.
Courtesy Jason Syptak
Jose Luis Zelaya says he's disappointed President Obama's new plan won't help his mother.

In 2012, he was elated after qualifying for Obama’s program that stopped the deportation of the so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

“Now, maybe I will be able to work without being afraid that someone may deport me,” he told CNN at the time. “There is no fear anymore.”

On Thursday, he hoped he’d be able to call his mother and giver her the same good news.

But the parents of Dreamers weren’t included in new rules Obama outlined.

“My head hurts, because my mother doesn’t benefit from this. And I am where I am because of my mother. And everything that I do is because of her,” Zelaya said.

“I just got off the phone with her, and those five minutes seemed so long. But she told me, ‘We’ve got to keep fighting.’”

’It’s what we were waiting for’

At first, Mario didn’t believe it. Before Obama’s speech, he told CNN he was trying not to get his hopes up.

“They’ve been talking about this for years,” he said. “I don’t take it very seriously. My wife is happy about it. But we are always realistic.”

On Thursday night, the 48-year-old undocumented immigrant, who asked that only his first name be used, said he’d listened to the speech with his family in their south Georgia home.

“I feel good, a little excited, not just for me, but for many others,” he said. “It’s what we were waiting for.”

Mario has been living in the United States for 14 years after leaving his home in Mexico in search of better job prospects. He found them, and he’s worked on farms harvesting onions and packing pine straw for more than a decade.

His 9-year-old daughter, the youngest of his three children, is a U.S. citizen, making him and his wife eligible under the new measure.

And they plan to speak with an immigration lawyer and apply to use Obama’s plan as soon as possible.

Still, he said, they know everything could change with the stroke of a future president’s pen.

“Nothing is impossible. Later they could change their policies and deport us more easily, or something like that. It’s difficult because we don’t know what ideas others will have,” he said.

Mario’s 18-year-old daughter Celeste is among the more than half a million Dreamers who received deferred action under Obama’s 2012 rule.

But without relief for her parents, she told CNN last year it was “like being out in the cold and me having the only blanket in the family.”

After Thursday’s speech, she said she was hopeful things might change dramatically soon.

“The fear of being separated won’t be there anymore, and that’s the biggest thing we just want to get rid of,” she said.

But she’s still waiting.

“I won’t be truly happy until I can see it happen,” she said. “One thing is to hear it, and the other thing is to actually see it.”

Group of ‘Dreamers grows

For one of America’s most well known undocumented immigrants, Obama’s announcement was welcome news he’d been waiting decades to hear.

Jose Antonio Vargas says he'll now be able to see his mother after 21 years apart.
Gerry Salva-Cruz
Jose Antonio Vargas says he'll now be able to see his mother after 21 years apart.

Jose Antonio Vargas became an outspoken advocate pushing for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in 2011, when he revealed he was undocumented in a column for The New York Times Magazine.

Because of an age cap in Obama’s 2012 deferred action plan, Vargas didn’t qualify. But on Thursday, Obama announced he was removing the age limit. After the speech, Vargas said he was thrilled.

Now, he says he’ll finally be able to get permission to return to the Philippines and visit his mother after 21 years apart.

“It’s one of those things where I’ve been thinking about it all day, and it hasn’t really sunk in,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I have been here since I was 12 – 21 years. For somebody to just say, OK, now it is OK. You can get a work permit. You can get a driver’s license. You can travel outside the country. … It’s a great night.”

CNN’s Andres Gonzalez, Mariano Castillo, Miguel Marquez and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.