Blog

Immigration activists remain positive despite block on executive action

On Monday night in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen — known as a hardliner on immigration — ruled to block implementation of President Obama’s executive action to extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and create a similar program entitled Deferred Action for Parents of America, or DAPA. Announced in November, the policies will provide work permits and relief from deportation to an estimated 5 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants across the United States.

Mario Carrillo is the communications manager for United We Dream, or UWD, a national network of immigrants’ rights groups that played a crucial part in passing both DACA in 2012 and its extension last year. Of Monday night’s injunction, Carrillo said, “This was the ruling that we expected and this was the ruling that we prepared for.” The network was also instrumental in passing DREAM Act legislation at the state level, which provides in-state tuition for undocumented students. Made up of 55 affiliate organizations in 25 states, UWD made headlines in the midterm election cycle this fall when it carried out a series of “bird-dogging” actions at Democratic campaign spots, calling attention to Obama’s decision to delay his announcement of DAPA and “DACA 2,” as the extensions are known, until after the election.

Vox reports that one part of the new round of deferred action, which would provide relief for some 230,000 people, was scheduled to go into effect this week. Meanwhile, DAPA was set to begin this spring — although that program’s implementation is now contingent on court proceedings. Notably, the decision does not impact those eligible for DACA as of 2012, who can continue to apply for relief and work permits. “More than anything,” Carrillo said, the ruling is an effort “to scare immigrant families [away] from applying and immigrants from benefiting from deferred action.” Complicated registration processes, fees and misinformation have all prevented even those clearly eligible from registering for DAPA and DACA 2.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whose state is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told Reuters that “Judge Hanen’s decision rightly stops the president’s overreach in its tracks.” The GOP has used immigration as a bargaining chip in Congress around the Department of Homeland Security’s yearly budget, only agreeing to pass a budget that nullifies DAPA and DACA 2.

The injunction comes ahead of a ruling expected any day in Hanen’s court on a lawsuit brought against the federal government by a coalition of 26 mostly Republican controlled states. The suit alleges that executive action on immigration reform both reaches beyond the bounds of the Constitution, and would inflict “dramatic and irreparable harm” at the state level. Legal experts say it’s unlikely that Hanen would have gone through with the injunction were he not likely to also rule against the government in the case. Many, including the White House, are confident that the stay on implementation will become a non-issue once it reaches the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Still, that could mean an additional four to eight months before immigrant families and communities can start benefiting from more inclusive deferred action policies. In a statement Tuesday, the White House indicated that the Department of Justice will seek to appeal the injunction, which it is worth noting “does not rule on the substantive merits of DAPA’s legality.”

Over the next few weeks, UWD will continue to provide immigrant communities with information on deferred action programs through information sessions, webinars and online resources. Meanwhile, the Alliance for Citizenship, another immigrant rights’ group, will be holding 50 “Ready for DACA” and “Ready for DAPA” rallies in 30 cities in the next few days, targeting members of Congress working to repeal the new deferred action programs. Moving forward, Carillo is confident about the process, explaining, “The victory that came last year really does belong to the community, and I know that we’re certainly committed to upholding it.”