Advocates vow to keep fighting for immigration reform
As news of the Supreme Court’s split decision on President Barack Obama’s immigration policy rolled in, community advocates let out a collective gasp. First came shock, then disappointment and finally anger.
Erika Almiron from Philadelphia-based organization Vamos Juntos says she received countless phone calls immediately after the announcement was made. Community members and even activists within her organization were confused about how the ruling would impact their own status and whether enforcement priorities would swing back to ICE-led raids, which paralyzed parts of Philadelphia earlier this year.
“Philadelphia was a ghost town,” Almiron says. “People didn’t send their kids to school, they didn’t go to work, they thought ICE was coming to their houses.
Echoes of that fear resurfaced yesterday when the highest court in the land failed to reach a verdict over whether Obama’s immigration plan could move forward. The decision leaves in a place an appeals court ruling that blocks two key deferment programs that would have shielded up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“Obama can do more,” Almiron says. “This punting to the next administration is completely about the election and about using our community and our issues as a political football.”
When Obama first announced his immigration plan, it felt like a guise. Yes, up to five million immigrants and their families would be shielded from deportation, but the remainders would be subjected to raids in their homes and prolonged detentions without recourse to legal action.
The one silver lining would have been DAPA and its sister program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But now, hopes for any kind of leniency have been squashed.
“It is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who made their lives here, who raised families here, who hoped for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military and more fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way,” Obama said after the ruling was handed down.
The president chastised Republicans, who refused to give a fair hearing to Judge Merrick B. Garland, Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy caused by the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year. But community organizers and labor advocates say the court’s failure to reach a verdict underscores the Obama administration’s toothless approach to comprehensive immigration reform.
“We know that any appeals process or any fight in the courts is not going to be resolved, definitely not, in this administration and perhaps not early on in the next administration,” says Neidi Dominguez, director of workers centers and assistant director for community change at the AFL-CIO.
“We see this as a moment where progress has stopped, but it will not be stopped. In the face of delay, we will continue to urge the [White House] to protect immigrants and their families.”
Yesterday’s decision is the result of a two-year legal battle waged by Texas after Obama issued an executive order in 2014 allowing undocumented parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from deportation. A coalition of 26 states challenged the plan and accused the president of abusing his executive power.
Advocates say that the court’s inability to offer a resolution only solidifies their own call to action.
“Our community is at its best when it’s organizing from the ground up,” Almiron says.
“What I learned is if you exclusively are waiting around for legal decisions and don’t keep on fighting … nothing happens. We have to keep moving. We have to have not just the community fighting, but we have to have all of the allies fighting.”
The AFL-CIO is one of those potential allies. Dominguez, an immigrant who came to the U.S. with her mother and sister at the age of 9 and went on to graduate with honors from the University of California at Santa Cruz, says she learned a valuable lesson from watching the LGBTQ community fight for same-sex marriage on the streets and then eventually in the Supreme Court.
As someone whose own status was undocumented just three years ago, Dominguez says her inclination is “not to sit around hope and pray that at the federal level someone is going to wake up and do something about this.”
“It’s clear right now that we have no window to win at the federal level right now without the backing and full motion of local fights,” she says.
Cities around the country are already hearing the call to action. In Arizona, four people were arrested outside the ICE offices in downtown Phoenix. Protesters called for the dismantling of the agency, which they called the most powerful deportation authority in the country’s history. Former Arizona Gov. Janet Brewer, one of Obama’s most vocal opponents on immigration, praised the Supreme Court’s decision and called it a win for America.
In North Carolina, activists slammed Gov. Pat McCrory for joining the federal lawsuit against Obama. Dozens of people rallied outside his executive mansion and chanted “sin papeles, sin miedo” and “McCrory, escucha, estamos en lucha.”
Vamos Juntos has a week of action planned starting Monday or Tuesday.