About two dozen Ohioan families affected by the broken immigration system left feeling disappointed after they met with Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, on Tuesday.
Though Kasich appeared to be sympathetic to undocumented immigrants’ concerns, he refused to budge when immigrants and advocates urged him to remove Ohio from a multi-state immigration lawsuit that’s since spawned a federal court order to prevent President Obama’s controversial executive action on deportation relief from taking effect.
The lawsuit in question is blocking the president’s executive actions known as the Deferred Action or Parents of Americans (DAPA) program and the expanded version of his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Together, the DAPA and DACA programs would have shielded upwards of 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and provided them with work authorization. Ohio joined the lawsuit in December 2014, a move that Kasich’s office has defended while insisting that it was Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine‘s decision.
Kasich told advocates that he would “make some phone calls,” but that he wouldn’t agree to remove his state from the lawsuit because the president “should have tried to work harder with Congress,” the immigrant advocacy group Ohio’s Voice reported in a press release.
On Tuesday, Kasich and DeWine heard some several people whose lives are directly affected by the ongoing legal challenge. Attendees included Olga Flores, whose four-year-old is battling cancer; Carlos, an immigrant father of two children whose wife was recently killed by a U.S. citizen; Jessica Pantaleon Camacho, a 20-year-old DACA college student whose parents would qualify for DAPA; and Maria Apaestegu, a DAPA-eligible recipient; and other families.
“All of these people have lived in Ohio for 10, 15, 20 years: These are all Ohioans,” Julie Nemecek, a Columbus-based attorney who represents at least four individuals at the meeting, told ThinkProgress. “We were hoping to get the Attorney General to do the right thing and take Ohio off the lawsuit. Every day the lawsuit is put on hold, they live in fear. They live in fear of driving to work — Olga Flores has to take her kid to the hospital for chemo treatment. Every day she’s afraid the police will pull her over.”
But the immigrants hoping to persuade Kasich and DeWine left with mixed feelings. Some of the individuals present at this week’s meeting described the governor as “tense” or at times confused about the DACA and DAPA programs.
“I went into the meetings being very hopeful that they knew what DACA and DAPA meant and that we could just show them the families that were being affected,” Camacho told ThinkProgress, acknowledging that her own parents would have qualified for the DAPA program. “It seemed that Governor Kasich had no idea about the topic. It was very unfortunate and I was disappointed with the fact that he didn’t take the time to research something that affected Ohio families.”
Nemecek agreed. “It seems that there was a lack of understanding of what DAPA and DACA II means and what it is. He kept saying, ‘you can’t jump the line. You can’t jump the line.’ But I don’t think he understands that DACA and DAPA is not jumping the line,” Nemecek told ThinkProgress. “It’s not giving people with undocumented status green cards.”
However, the advocates said that there were some bright spots. Kasich did seem to “recognize that there is a problem here,” and DeWine approached the issue with compassion. Camacho said that the attorney general “was very much touched by the stories that we were able to tell. He feels very strongly about families… he’s doing things politically, but I’m still thankful.”
Dan Tierney, the spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General, told ThinkProgress via email that the meeting “was both cordial and productive.” Tierney reiterated that DeWine’s decision to join the Texas litigation “has nothing to do with the underlying immigration policy and everything to do with separation of powers and the president using executive orders to bypass our elected representatives in Congress.”
No matter the impetus behind the lawsuit, however, blocking DACA and DAPA has serious consequences for the immigrants living in Ohio.
Camacho said her family lives in constant fear of getting deported. “You can see it in their eyes,” she said. “DAPA would allow them to get rid of that fear, to stay with their family, and having that knowledge that no matter what, my little sister and brother would be able to stay with their families.”
“We would like to stay here with our son,” Maria Apaestegu, another attendee, told ThinkProgress. “We made our life here. We work here. We pay taxes here.”
Kasich’s view on immigration has drastically changed over time, originally stating that he wouldn’t “want to reward” undocumented immigrants and that he supported ending birthright citizenship for children born to undocumented immigrants in the country. But after the president announced his executive action in November 2014, Kasich was the only governor at the Republican Governors Association conference to explicitly support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.