A lawsuit that seeks to temporarily block deportations of immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens was allowed to go forward Friday.
The lawsuit argues that U.S.-born children are deprived of their civil rights when authorities send their illegal-immigrant parents to their home countries. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are 3.1 million children in that situation nationally.
Although U.S. District Judge Paul Huck dismissed the original complaint, he gave lawyers until Jan. 16 to fine-tune their case and resubmit it.
Initially filed in Miami federal court in October, the case is supported by local immigrant advocates.
"I'm so happy. It's a great opportunity to do more research. I think we're going in the right direction," said Nora Sandigo, executive director of the American Fraternity advocacy group and the guardian named to represent almost 60 children involved in the case.
Since Sandigo filed the suit in October, more than 100 families from across the United States have added their names to the roster of potential plaintiffs.
Seen by some experts as a long shot, the court case coincides with growing frustration over illegal immigration in the United States, and with renewed efforts to pass an immigration overhaul in Congress. The case pins its chances for success on the possibility lawmakers will revive a Senate plan to create a path to citizenship for about 8 million illegal immigrants.
Alfonso Oviedo, the plaintiff's lead attorney in the case, said he might now ask the court for a declaratory judgment -- a ruling that states some kind of rights abuse has occurred but does not carry any relief, like a suspension of deportations. Such a judgment would strengthen the case, Oviedo said, if he brought it before the U.S. Supreme Court, a step he said he's considering.
Government lawyers have also questioned whether federal courts have jurisdiction over cases like the one brought by Sandigo. Oviedo said that argument was part of the reason he might try to pursue the case with the Supreme Court.
"Going to the Supreme Court is a privilege; it's not a right in most cases," he said. But he added that a shift in immigration enforcement had pushed many deportation issues to the high court, so that it acted like a district court in some instances.
No one at the U.S. attorney's office could be reached for comment.
Huck's decision came after a government request to dismiss the case on the grounds that an identical suit had been decided already. Specifically, government lawyers referred to a 1999 case regarding Honduran children, which was dismissed. Oviedo argued that the case became moot when the Clinton administration granted temporary protected status to Hondurans living illegally in the United States, a decision handed down while the case was pending.
The Bush administration has since renewed that immigration shield for Hondurans to help their homeland rebuild after the devastation from Hurricane Mitch in 1998.