BY ESTHER YU-HSI LEE – – –
It is a day of optimism for about four million undocumented immigrants who have held their breaths for over a year now.
This past Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Obama administration’s appeal of United States v. Texas, a lawsuit that will determine whether millions of undocumented immigrants may receive temporary work authorization and deportation relief.
Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the Court’s decision to take up the lawsuit “welcome news.”
“A positive ruling from the Supreme Court in June would be never short of life-changing and could provide immigrant families with dignity, safety, and freedom,” Hincapié said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.
The executive action — known as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents, or DAPA — was unveiled by President Obama in November 2014 in an attempt to protect the parents of legal U.S. residents or citizens. Another immigration action that would extend similar benefits for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Plus, was announced around the same time. But more than two dozen states and Republican officials challenged the initiative, which blocked DAPA and DACA+ from taking place.
That legal challenge has left the executive actions hanging in the balance. Now, the pending Supreme Court case — which could be heard as early as April and decided on before the court adjourns in June — will determine the fate of millions of immigrants who have been living in fear of being deported.
In the meantime, immigrants are cautiously optimistic that a ruling in favor of the initiative could provide their families with some stability. The case has faced bad luck up until now. At the trial level, the 26-state lawsuit was led by former President George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who issued an injunction to block the directives from taking effect. Then the case was assigned to two conservative judges, resulting in the policies remaining on hold.
“My mom was here with me when the announcement happened. I remember telling her about the lawsuit and it was really heartbreaking to see that she was going to live with that fear,” Jassiel Perez said to ThinkProgress. His family came to the United States from Mexico when he was a child, though he has U.S.-born siblings. “I’m excited that I’m going to be able to tell her that we’re finally going to have our day in court.”
“For me, this means a sense of relief for the time being,” Nestor Ruiz, a member of the immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, told ThinkProgress. His mother would qualify for the DAPA initiative, which would bring some peace of mind for Ruiz, whose father was deported in 2006 after officers pulled him over for a broken taillight. “But this isn’t the end of the fight — there’s still a lot for me to do to continue the fight.”
Ruiz’s feelings of anxiety and anger were renewed earlier this year, when the Obama administration authorized immigration agents to go after Central American mothers and children in a series of deportation operations around the country. More than 100 women and children have been rounded up so far.
“When we heard about the raids, my mom had a sense of fear like she did in the months and years after my father’s deportation,” Ruiz said. His mother has been in the United States for two decades. “That was actually one of the times that I saw her scared to leave the house.”
Cris Mercado, an undocumented immigrant who has lived in New York City for the past 30 years, is also awaiting a Supreme Court decision. He qualifies for the DACA+ initiative, having aged out of the original 2012 executive action, which restricted applicants to those who came to the country before the age of 16 and are no older than 31 years old.
“There are millions of immigrants, like myself, who already positively contribute to their communities, pay their taxes, and possess high-level skills — and this decision by the Supreme Court to take the case gives us hope,” Mercado said. “It makes me feel like the Court is listening to our compelling stories, but it all boils down to the final decision later this year.”
A favorable Supreme Court decision in June would mean that President Obama may be able to implement his policies before leaving office. But the next president could ultimately determine the initiative’s longevity. Soon after the Supreme Court announced that it would take up the case, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican presidential candidate, tweeted that if he’s elected president, he would “end” the immigration actions, which he called “unconstitutional.”
The looming Supreme Court decision has wider implications beyond just undocumented immigrants themselves. DAPA-eligible immigrants are parents to about 5.5 million U.S. citizen children, who are at risk of heightened symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“This is not the end,” Perez said. “Our community will always be deterined and we will continue fighting until everyone in our community is protected and this goes past DACA and DAPA.”