Nine immigrant activists, including a mechanic and a house cleaner from suburban Maryland, began a nine-day fast Wednesday outside an appeals court in New Orleans to demand that the judges rule on a case that offered potential deportation relief to millions of illegal immigrants.
The fast, sponsored by two immigrant rights organizations, is intended to prod the court into acting on a legal challenge to President Obama’s deportation relief plan of a year ago. The challenge by officials in 26 states stopped the new policy from moving ahead, even as immigrant advocates and foreign consulates across the country were preparing to help undocumented people apply for the relief.
Officials of one sponsor, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, charged that by failing to act on the case, the court was “tearing families apart to advance an anti-immigrant agenda for political reasons.” It said judges and politicians who oppose Obama’s action “stand against American families and communities.”
Miguel Claros, 51, a mechanic from Bolivia who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said both he and his wife have lived and worked in the United States for 16 years. They are both undocumented but have two daughters who were born here and are thus U.S. citizens, which would enable Claros and his wife to apply for a three-year deportation relief under Obama’s proposed policy.
“I ask myself what would happen if one or both of us suddenly got deported. Where would our daughters live? What would happen to their futures?” said Claros, speaking by cellphone from a plaza in front of the New Orleans courthouse.
“These judges are children or grandchildren of immigrants, but they don’t see us as human,” he said. “They are just part of a political game.”
Next to him was Rosario Hernandez, 36, a Salvadoran house cleaner from Gaithersburg, Md. who has participated in numerous fasts and marches in the Washington area to demand rights for undocumented immigrants such as herself.
As the mother of a 19-year-old son who was born in the United States, she, too, might be eligible for relief under Obama’s plan, which would enable her to travel to El Salvador and visit her younger son, who she has not seen in more than a decade.
“We work hard, but our life as a family has been stopped by this situation. We want to build a house. We want to be united,” Hernandez said.
The flight from Washington to New Orleans on Tuesday, paid for by the sponsors, was her first time on a plane. “It is scary to fly if you are illegal,” she said, “but they looked at my [Salvadoran] passport and let me go through.”
The group plans to remain outside the courthouse for nine days, drinking only water, and to spend each night in a local church.
Opponents of the actions Obama announced in November, including Republican governors and members of Congress, charge that he had no legal authority to issue such sweeping executive orders that could allow several million illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and potentially obtain permanent legal status.
The president had previously granted deportation relief to several hundred thousand illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. The 2014 actions would expand the eligibility pool from that group, as well as offer relief to an even larger group ofimmigrants with U.S.-born children.
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, live in the United States. Obama’s actions were an effort to provide relief to portions of that population after attempts in Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform dissolved into a bitter partisan dispute.
In December, Texas and 25 other states filed suit against Obama’s actions, seeking to block both from being enacted. They complained that the costs of carrying out the policies would place a financial burden on states, and also argued that the president had exceeded the limits of his executive power.
In February, a Texas judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the actions from being implemented. The Justice Department quickly appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, asking that the injunction be lifted in the meantime. That request was denied, leaving the issue in limbo.
Alan Gomez, 45, an immigrant from Nicaragua who remodels homes in Maryland, joined the fast as a volunteer for CASA of Maryland, an immigrant advocate group. He said that although he has been able to obtain legal status, he was protesting for the sake of others.
“I have cousins and uncles and friends who are illegal,” Gomez said, “and I am doing this for them and everyone else in that situation.”