Partisan ruling by Appeals Court blocks Obama immigration program

NEW ORLEANS – On Tuesday May 26, in what appears to be a highly-partisan, 2 to 3 decision, a panel of the Federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans turned down a request from the Obama administration to stay a February order by a federal judge in Texas to block implementation of a program to give relief to millions of immigrants.

The February decision by Federal District Court Judge Andrew Hanen, in Brownsville, Texas, came in response to suits by 26 state attorneys general to block implementation of the Obama administration’s DAPA and expanded DACA programs, which were announced by the president via an executive order late last year.   

The plaintiffs, led by the state of Texas, argued that by conferring interim legal status on undocumented immigrants, the federal government was imposing a burden of administrative expenses on the states without due process.  The counter argument that by legalizing undocumented workers and allowing them to earn more money and thus pay more taxes, which would benefit the states’ finances, was simply ignored.

The original DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, announced by Obama in 2012, stopped the deportation of “Dreamers,”  people in the U.S. who were brought here without immigration papers when they were minor children.  Last year’s expansion of DACA will allow a larger number of people to qualify.

Although they are not given permanent resident status and cannot, as of now, acquire U.S. citizenship, DACA beneficiaries can stay in the country without fear of deportation, and are given permits to work here.

DAPA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful U.S. Residents, is to provide similar relief to people who do not have legal immigration status  but who have minor children who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents. 

Many think that the two programs together could give urgently needed relief to up to five million mostly working-class and mostly Latino people.  Supporters of DACA and DAPA, who include, besides the immigrants and their families themselves, large numbers of immigration lawyers and law professors, labor union leaders including at the top level of the AFL-CIO and major unions, churches and others, point out that giving legal relief to this large group of people will allow them to study, to join labor unions, to improve their economic situations and thus contribute more to the U.S. economy  and society.

Many Republican politicians have taken the line that in trying to deal with the immigration situation by executive order President Obama acted “lawlessly” and that he should have “waited” for Congress to pass immigration reform legislation and not acted by executive order.  However, Congress has been stalemated on immigration reform, mostly by the Republicans’ own obstructionist tactics, for many years.   Meanwhile breadwinners are deported and families left broken and destitute all over the country.

The Obama administration also has been sharply criticized by the immigrants’ rights movement  for moving too slowly to push immigration reform legislation, while continuing to deport non-criminal, non threatening undocumented immigrants at a fast clip.   Demonstrations all over the country over the past several years have been organized precisely to get the kind of action that the administration finally produced with DACA and DAPA.

Since then, the movement and its component entities of labor unions, churches and civic and community organizations have turned their focus to helping potential beneficiaries of DACA and DAPA to prepare the paperwork for submitting their applications for relief.  The February court decision put this on hold.

Had the appeals court ruled otherwise last week, the submission process should have started right away.  What happens now is not entirely clear, but the cause is not entirely lost.  No court has ruled the DACA and DAPA programs to be illegal or unconstitutional; the Tuesday ruling simply denies the Obama administration’s petition to have the earlier ruling by Judge Hanen lifted by temporary injunction.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called for the Obama administration to bring “the matter to the Supreme Court without delay.”  

It is possible that the purpose of the Republican politicians is to frighten immigrants eligible for DACA and DAPA out of applying for the programs.  Given the way the G.O.P. has treated immigrants, there is reason to believe that once many immigrants eventually get citizenship they will punish Republican politicians at election time.

Democratic Party politicians see their opportunity here; Hillary Clinton has, for example, stated that if elected president she would expand DAPA to include undocumented parents, not only of citizen and legal resident children, but of previously undocumented children who get relief under DACA.  This statement was very well received among immigrants’ rights circles.

Immigrants’ rights activists and their supporters, more organized and united than ever, vow not to be intimidated and to fight on, and in this they also have the support of an increasing number of local and state governments which understand the benefits to the whole society of giving this large group of workers and their families the opportunity to continue contributing mightily to our society.

Photo: Jonathan McIntosh CC-BY-2.5


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.