Advocates urge immigrants not to be deterred by ruling blocking Obama plan

Advocates say immigrants in U.S. illegally should still prepare to apply for protection despite court ruling

When news broke late Monday night that a federal judge had temporarily blocked President Obama's planned actions that would defer deportation for about 5 million immigrants living in the United States illegally, Maria Guadalupe Nunez assumed she could no longer apply.

Not necessarily, said her 23 year-old son, Jose Palacios, who lives with her in Tampa, Fla.

“She felt that it was over. I told her this was not a serious stop -- we will be able to pull through and get this win secured for good,” said Palacios, who works with an immigration advocacy nonprofit group.

Administration officials said Tuesday that they plan to appeal the judge’s ruling but in the interim will suspend applications for the two programs: the deferred-action program for parents of lawful permanent residents (DAPA) and an expanded deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA).

DAPA includes more than 4 million people such as Nunez who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

Nunez, 46, immigrated to the U.S. from outside Mexico City 20 years ago and now works as a cleaner. She has nine children, five of whom are U.S. citizens. One has a visa and three others received DACA protection -- including Palacios, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 4 years old.

DACA allowed 1.2 million people to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits; the expansion would add about 300,000.

A coalition of 26 states led by Texas sued to block the programs, arguing that Obama overstepped his constitutional authority by acting without congressional approval.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was set to start accepting applications for expanded DACA on Wednesday. DAPA applications were not expected to start until May, lawyers said.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement saying he disagreed with the federal judge's injunction but that the department "will not begin accepting requests for the expansion of DACA tomorrow" and will suspend DAPA requests "until further notice."

But Johnson also noted that "we fully expect to ultimately prevail in the courts, and we will be prepared to implement DAPA and expanded DACA once we do."

Across the country, immigrants who were eligible for the two programs were contemplating how to proceed Tuesday.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do yet,” said Rocio Andiola of Mesa, Ariz. “I didn’t know how to react.”

Andiola, 35, who came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico, is eligible for expanded DACA and for DAPA, as is her husband, and they have two U.S.-born sons, ages 13 and 15. She has been gathering documents required to apply.

The stay-at-home mom said she is studying part-time to earn her high school equivalency diploma and to return to work in the day-care field. She used to work at a day-care center, but said “it’s difficult to find a job without a work permit. It’s possible, but it’s really hard." That's especially true, she said, when someone doesn't have a license because he or she is in the country illegally.

Her husband has worked repairing construction equipment for the past seven years, she said, but “if he had to leave his job, it would be hard for him to get another one. That’s why we were hoping DACA and DAPA happen.”

“We’ve been doing things right -- paying taxes and stuff. We deserve an opportunity to live here,” under DAPA or DACA, Andiola said.

She said the court ruling, “made me feel I have to work hard to make it happen.”

“There’s a lot of other people who don’t have the same hope I have,” she said, “They have been waiting for this driver’s license and work permit for years. I feel bad for them.”

The president's approach to the programs has been supported by about a dozen states and numerous immigrant-advocacy groups who filed briefs with the court, and whose lawyers on Tuesday urged those eligible to still prepare their applications.

“We think it’s really important to prepare for that eventuality that we will win this case. We’re very confident about that,” Debbie Smith, associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union, said during a Tuesday briefing. 

Melissa Crow, legal director for the Washington-based American Immigration Council, said immigrants in deportation proceedings who might be eligible for the new programs should ask government lawyers to use “prosecutorial discretion” to halt their cases, remove them from the docket or delay them until the programs’ legality is resolved by the courts.

She noted that when the president announced the new programs, Homeland Security officials emphasized that they would be focusing on deporting “high-priority” cases, such as dangerous criminals.

“It’s to their advantage to take cases off the docket so they can focus on the high-priority cases. That’s what DACA and DAPA are all about,” Crow said.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center, said encouraging immigrants to continue preparing their applications despite the temporary injunction was not giving them “false hope.”  

“This is on firm legal footing,” she said of the programs.

Hincapié said Monday’s ruling has stirred confusion, and that she didn't want that confusion to scare off potential applicants.  

“Opponents have filed this lawsuit with that in mind: to confuse people and instill fear. Do not be deterred,” Hincapié said.

She said immigrant-advocacy groups are calling on the administration not only to appeal the injunction, but to seek an emergency stay of Monday's ruling, a move that would allow the programs to proceed.

On Tuesday, Jose Palacios flew to Washington to join 40 others rallying support for the programs, “to see what’s our next focus, how are we going to defend this.”

“We want our communities to know they still have to be prepared to apply,” he said.

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