Judge’s ruling derails plans of immigrants seeking legal status Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Plus Share via Email More Options Resize Text Print Article Comments 5

Posted February 19, 2015 /


Obama defends immigration executive action against judge’s ruling(0:49)
President Obama says he disagrees with a Texas judge’s ruling on his immigration executive action. (Reuters)
By Pamela Constable February 17
For weeks, Marly Arevalo has had her school transcripts and birth certificate ready. The 20-year-old community college student in Riverdale, Md., who immigrated illegally to the U.S. as a young teenager, was all set to apply for deportation relief under President Obama’s executive action. Her younger brother and sister, both high school students, were also planning to apply.

But on Tuesday morning, they heard on the radio that the program, scheduled to begin accepting applications Wednesday, had instead been suspended indefinitely. A federal judge in Texas issued a ruling Monday favoring a lawsuit by 26 states that challenged the president’s action.

“This is a big disappointment for me and my family,” said Arevalo, whose father is a groundskeeper and whose mother cleans offices. “We were all so excited when the president announced the program,…It would open so many doors for us to get more education and better jobs. ”

For months, illegal immigrants in the Washington region and across the country have been flocking to workshops in Latino communities, eager to learn how to apply for deportation relief under President Obama’s action last November. The action could potentially benefit up to 5 million such immigrants, most as parents of U.S.-born children and others as adults who entered the U.S. as youths.

Now, the eleventh-hour court order from Texas has sent their communities into shock — and sent advocacy groups scrambling to persuade them that all is not lost– just temporarily delayed.
Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA in Virginia and Maryland, shown here during a November protest, said he is positive the Texas ruling will eventually be overturned on appeal by federal officials. (Sammy Dallal/For the Washington Post)
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland and Virginia, the largest advocacy and assistence agency for illegal immigrants in the region, said he is positive the Texas ruling will eventually be overturned on appeal by federal officials. Meanwhile, he said, CASA will continue advising applicants to gather their documents and get ready to apply as soon as the program is revived.

“This is a setback for our community but it is by no means the end of the road,” Torres said Tuesday. “People are going to be confused, but we will keep having our workshops and tell them don’t stop, keep preparing. There are going to be rallies all over the country. This is a political attack, but we have the legal and political means to fight back. There is no question that we will prevail.”

Immigrant organizations and advocacy groups across the country said Tuesday that the Texas ruling did not come as a surprise, and that they expected federal officials to quickly appeal it with a high likelihood of success. They said they were working with Spanish-language radio and TV to get out the word that the ruling is not permanent and that potential applicants — who are all in the U.S. illegally — should not panic.
In Los Angeles, where a team of lawyers at the National Immigration Law Center have been gearing up to help applicants for the executive action, managing attorney Karen Tumlin said all applicants are now being told to “proceed calmly about the business of getting ready” — gathering documents and cash for application fees — but to also be wary of shady individuals posing as lawyers who may try to take advantage of their fear and confusion.

“The news changed on a dime last night, just when everyone was getting ready to apply,” Tumlin said. “It could change again in two weeks. We are all hoping the Justice Department will file for an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling, but we don’t know how fast they will move. We are asking our clients to call the government and be aggressive about their concerns — but also be careful in a confusing situation and to consult with an attorney before trying to apply.”

Frank Sharry, executive director of the national pro-immigrant group America’s Voice, dismissed the court ruling as legally laughable and politically biased. He called it part of a strategy by Republican opponents of Obama and immigration reform to “introduce as much controversy and uncertainty as possible, so fewer people will apply. We are making it clear to everyone that this is going to delay things, but it will not stop them,” he said.

Immigration officials had also been preparing for months for an expected onslaught of applicants, with plans to hire an extra 1,000 private contractors in a newly leased building in northern Virginia, at a cost of about $48 million, to process their cases as applications packages arrive by mail. The website of the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service has posted numerous general guidelines for applicants.

But the detailed rules had not yet been issued, leaving the planned rollout already marred by confusion about eligibility requirements and open to charges from Congressional critics that the new policy was being used to “sneak” others onto a path to permanent residency and citizenship.
At orientation workshops across the Washington region this past month, Latino families besieged counselors with questions about what was needed to qualify — and in many cases, they were not yet able to answer. One commonly voiced concern was whether someone who had previously been ordered deported would still be able to apply; the answer was that it depends on the circumstances but was not yet totally clear.

A second frequent question was whether the father of a U.S.-born child could apply even if he was not listed on the birth certificate or if the parents were not married; again counselors said it was not yet clear what evidence someone would need to prove paternity. The third major concern was whether it would be acceptable to submit documents like tax or work records if they had a false Social Security number. In that case, at least, the answer was clear: Never submit such records, because it is an act of fraud and can lead to criminal charges.

Most such questions came from parents who sought to qualify through their U.S.-born or legal resident children, who constitute well over 4 million of the estimated 5 million illegal immigrants who may apply for deportation relief. Their applications, however, were not scheduled to be accepted until May, allowing more time for clarification.

More urgent were questions raised regarding the second category of applicants — a smaller number of adults who came to the U.S. illegally as youths — whose applications the government was planning to begin accepting on Wednesday.

One concern about that group was raised last week by U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Goodlatte complained that immigration officials planned to allow all such applicants to immediately apply for permission to travel to their homelands — a process known as “advance parole.” In an open letter, Goodlatte charged that granting someone advance parole could eventually allow them to become a permanent legal resident, and that the Obama administration was using it to “sneak” more illegal immigrants into the citizenship line.
Immigration officials have not responded to that charge, and on Tuesday Goodlatte said he was “pleased” that the executive action had been temporarily halted, saying, “we cannot allow one man to nullify the law of the land with . . . a stroke of his pen.”

But groups of young illegal immigrants around the country, led by a coalition called
United We Dream, vowed Tuesday that they would not let a “hate-filled lawsuit” deter them from seeking legal protection and a future in the United States.

“This lawsuit is another political stunt geared to scare away immigrants and their families” from applying for Obama’s action, said a statement from the group’s Virginia affiliate. “The best way we can fight back is to continue to get ready and to immediately apply when the time comes. We are confident the court system will reject this lawsuit. . . .We remain committed to fighting until everyone in our community is protected from deportation and able to live freely in the U.S.”