Immigration advocates used words like “frustrated” to describe their reaction to the news that a federal appeals court has dealt another setback to President Obama’s plan to shield millions from deportation.
In a 2-1 ruling issued Monday night, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to uphold a lower court's injunction blocking two deferred action programs that Obama announced last November as part of a series of executive actions on immigration.
Standing outside the state Capitol today, the advocates stressed that this decision is a setback but not the end of the road.
“We are not going to give up,” said Raquel Teran, Arizona director for Mi Familia Vota, a group working to mobilize Latino voters. “We know that what is in the courts is out of our control, but what is in our control is to continue organizing and to continue to build political power for 2016.”
One of the programs that remain blocked is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The program would allow up to 4 million undocumented parents of permanent residents and U.S. citizens to stay and work in the United States. The expansion of a 2012 deferred-action program for undocumented young immigrants, know as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also continues to be blocked.
The appeals court ruled that the Obama administration overstepped its legal authority in attempting to protect millions from deportation.
Immigration law “flatly does not permit the reclassification of millions of illegal aliens as lawfully present and thereby make them newly eligible for a host of federal and state benefits, including work authorization,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote in the majority decision.
He also said Texas and the 25 other states that sued the administration over Obama’s executive actions on immigration “have standing” and “have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of their claims. Arizona is part of that coalition of states that sued.
Immigration advocates said today they're not surprised by the latest ruling, given that the same court earlier this year denied the Department of Justice’s emergency stay request, which would have lifted the hold on Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
They said the ruling paves the way for the Obama administration to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. A spokesman for the Department of Justice said today the department “disagrees with the Fifth Circuit’s adverse ruling and intends to seek further review from the Supreme Court of the United States.”
A favorable ruling by the Supreme Court would permit the Obama administration to move forward with the president’s executive actions on immigration. But it’s unclear whether Supreme Court justices — if they decide to take up the case — would have enough time to wade into the issue and make a decision before Obama ends his term in January 2017.
And even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the president, the administration only will have a few months to implement the DAPA and expanded DACA programs before he leaves office.
Immigration attorney Ayensa Millan explained that one route the Supreme Court justices could take is to lift the injunction and allow people to acquire immigration relief through the DAPA and expanded DACA programs while they make a final decision on the case.
“I think that the Supreme Court [justices], if they really do expedite this, they certainly can come out with a decision before Obama leaves office,” she added.
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That’s what Jazmin Bernal, a 19-year-old college student, is hoping will happen. Here mother, an undocumented immigrant who’s been in the country for 32 years and has six U.S.-citizen children, would benefit from DAPA.
Bernal explained that her mother hasn’t been able to adjust her immigration status, not even by having one of her U.S. citizen children petition for her, because she entered the country illegally. Under immigration law, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can petition for a parent to become legalized but only if the parent entered the country legally.
“I’m scared for her, and there’s really nothing that we can do to help her,” Bernal said.