CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee
Just days before the U.S. government was set to begin accepting applications to allow some undocumented immigrants to receive deportation relief and work authorization, a Texas federal district court temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive action on immigration relief, ruling that the president violated “procedural requirements.”
For now, at least, the lawsuit has blocked the Obama administration from taking steps to grant relief to immigrants under an expansion of the president’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and his other Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. The ruling has left immigrants who were completing their application materials uncertain and afraid, even as advocates assure them the decision could still be overturned by a high court.
“We’re telling families preparing for DACA and DAPA not to panic,” Debbie Smith, Associate General Counsel, Service Employees International Union, said on a press call Tuesday. “[The lawsuit] is not the end of the game. … We have to keep continuing to hold DACA and DAPA outreach forums and continue to collecting documents and stay tuned in. This is the beginning of a fight.”
Among the immigrants affected is Alfredo Garcia, 22, who would qualify for expanded DACA. As a senior studying economics at the Texas A&M University, he told ThinkProgress that he’s worried about his future after he graduates in May. “I thought that I was going to start working and everything that I have planned is based on the assumption that I would be getting DACA,” Garcia said. “It’s really difficult in the sense that going to graduate school might not happen. … I’m positive and confident [that a higher court will dismiss the lawsuit], but at the same time, it leaves me wondering what’s going to happen to me in the future.”
Garcia came to the United States from Mexico in July 2007, one month after the application cut-off date set by the 2012 DACA program requirements. At the time, he said that he “was really sad because all my friends, who were undocumented, qualified for it. I worked with an advocacy group … so I was helping all those people apply for DACA, but at the same time, I was unable to qualify for it. I was happy for my friends, but sad because I missed the application deadline by one month.” He voiced disappointment that he might not be able to use his degree in economics and philosophy, but instead will have to continue working in construction “every summer, every winter,” as he’s currently doing to earn enough to pay for college.
The lawsuit “serves as a reminder that there are communities denied equal opportunities and this unites our community,” Garcia said. “This motivates us to keep fighting for opportunities that we don’t have.”
Juan Ramos, 21, is an undocumented immigrant who fled to North Carolina from Salvadoran gangs back in 2008. He would qualify for expanded DACA, but now feels flustered that he may not receive immigration relief. “When I first got the email last night [about the Texas lawsuit decision], at first I was like, ‘this is not the first time that they’re trying to attack what we’re fighting for.’ At the same time there’s a feeling of, ‘what else do we need to do to show them that I just want relief and continue my dreams?'”
“I couldn’t continue my education after high school,” Ramos said, explaining that North Carolina does not provide in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. “I would have had to pay $18,000 and it’s very hard to get scholarships so I wanted to wait until I got DACA.” Though Ramos is optimistic that “we just have to wait a couple months longer because I think it’ll still happen, ” he said that his plans to go to college and his future career as a possible immigrant organizer has been put on hold.
A.R., an undocumented Pakistani immigrant living in New York City, would qualify for the DAPA program. She and her family legally came to the United States from Pakistan 14 years ago, but she overstayed her visa when one of her children needed life-saving medical care. As one of nine million immigrants living in a mixed-status household with at least one U.S. citizen child, A.R. said that DAPA would have made her “feel more secure because you won’t be separated from your family.”
“I was so upset and I didn’t know that this was going to happen,” A.R. said, expressing her dismay over the lawsuit. “It’s very hard. I’m so disappointed. We were so close to putting together our documents and all of a sudden we heard this news and this shocked me.”
A.R. expressed some fear that people could discover she’s undocumented in the meantime. Despite the fact that her daughter is a so-called “DACA success story” now working as an immigrant advocate touting the president’s executive action, A.R. asked to keep her identity secret because “you never know — God forbid — with people who don’t accept us. I don’t want to make problems for me and my family.”
The judge’s ruling stemmed from a 26-state lawsuit from December to block the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing a set of directives allowing immigration officials to set priorities to detain criminal undocumented immigrants. Despite the lawsuit, a recent Public Religion Research Institute Poll found that about 75 percent of Americans support the President’s executive action.