A Grand Strand woman's path to citizenship

President Barack Obama has put forth his plan to reform immigration.

Speaking in Las Vegas Tuesday, Obama said "now is the time" to fix the nation's broken immigration system. He called for putting millions of illegal immigrants on a pathway to citizenship, cracking down on businesses that employ people illegally and tightening security at the borders.

One Horry County woman hopes that native-born Americans will listen to the stories of illegal immigrants and learn why they came here before judging them.

Maria Lippert and her husband, Jeff, live in a subdivision near Socastee. The former Maria Mendez met her American husband when he owned a restaurant in Mexico, her native country.

After they married and moved to the U.S., she went through the long and difficult process of becoming an American citizen.

Now, she would like her Mexican friends, even if they came to the U.S. illegally, to have that same opportunity.

"There's a lot of people who work hard, who want to live here, who want to be legal, who want to do everything right," Lippert said.

Lippert says the U.S. shouldn't just throw its borders wide open and allow anyone in, and she thinks those who are already here should learn the English language and abide by the laws. If they can't do that, she says, they should be sent back.

"We give you this opportunity to stay here in this country legally, you don't really deserve that because you make so many things bad, OK, see you, bye-bye," she said.

But Lippert says many illegal immigrants work tough jobs that most Americans don't want. Millions of immigrants have been here for many years, she adds, and they're not going back.

"They are living so long here, they have a life here, the kids was born here, they are part of the community now."

The Lipperts have two boys of their own, both American citizens.

Lippert hopes that those who oppose giving immigrants the chance to become citizens, will hear their whole stories and find out why they left their families behind to come to this country.

"You probably have to do a little more study before you say no to something."

Maria Lippert is part of Horry county's growing immigrant population. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 6.3 percent of county residents are Hispanic, more than than double the percentage from ten years earlier.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.