President Obama’s plan to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation may be in legal limbo, but that’s not stopping advocates for the undocumented, who are planning a new wave of events celebrating the initiative’s one-year anniversary.
Even as a federal appeals court ruled this week against Obama’s program, advocates were stepping up their preparations and finalizing plans to hold vigils, news conferences and “naturalization workshops” nationwide in the days around Nov. 20. That’s the date Obama last year announced the new program, which aims to protect up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation but has been stuck in the courts.
“This is a hugely significant program. It’s a 2-3 year window in which people don’t need to work in the shadows and live in the shadows,” said Tara Raghuveer, policy and advocacy director for the Chicago-based National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of 37 immigrant advocacy groups that is helping to spearhead this month’s events.
She said the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, while “disappointing,” had provided a bolt of energy for those seeking deportation relief and eventual citizenship for the nation’s 11.3 million undocumented immigrants. “The turnout is going to be higher at all of our events,” she said. “I think we will see a huge jump in the numbers.”
The 5th Circuit on Monday upheld a lower court injunction that blocks the deferred-action program from taking effect, meaning that one of Obama’s signature immigration initiatives remains on hold and may not begin before his term expires in January 2017. The administration announced Tuesday that it would ask the Supreme Court to review the case and back the program, which Republican presidential candidates have vowed to dismantle.
Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program would allow the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens to receive work permits, provided they have lived in the country for at least five years and have not committed any other crimes. It is modeled after a 2012 program that has postponed the deportations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. The administration also wants to expand the 2012 program for younger immigrants, which is not affected by the legal battle.
A federal judge in Texas ordered the injunction in February after Texas and 25 other states sued the administration, calling the moves unconstitutional. The Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration laws, has halted its intensive preparations to implement the new program, including a suspension of plans to hire up to 3,100 new employees, most of whom would be housed in an 11-story building the government has leased for $7.8 million a year in Arlington, Va.
The events being planned to commemorate the anniversary of the day Obama announced the new program are mostly workshops, at which advocates will help immigrants apply for the 2012 program and also for citizenship and green cards. About 30 have been scheduled on or around Nov. 20 — in states from Nevada and Florida to Illinois and Tennessee — though organizers expect the number of events to grow. At least one will be held in the Washington area — a workshop in Annandale on Nov. 20.
Esperanza Villalobos, an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States from Mexico in 2000, will help run a workshop in the Chicago area. Villalobos — who is eligible for DAPA and whose son is protected from deportation under the 2012 program — said the one-year anniversary is “bittersweet.”
“It’s taking so long to put this into effect,” she said, adding that she was not deterred by the 5th Circuit ruling. “I’m happy because in reality, we didn’t lose, we actually won,” she said. “We are confident that the Supreme Court ruling will be in our favor.”