Implementation of President Barack Obama’s immigration plan has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge’s injunction, but immigration lawyers said the delay won’t slow down their efforts to get undocumented immigrants ready to apply for new deferred deportation programs.
And they may not have to wait long — the Obama administration announced Friday that it will seek an emergency order to allow the programs to be implemented while a general appeal of the injunction proceeds.
However, several attorneys said even if the roadblock is removed quickly, many immigrants feel it’s another reason to be wary of their chances of obtaining legal protection anytime soon.
The majority of those who stand to benefit from the order would be eligible under a new program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. Four million people nationwide were estimated to be eligible for relief under DAPA, which was not set to begin accepting applications until May.
“Who this is really affecting is potentially 55,000 people in Maryland that were going to be eligible for DAPA,” according to Migration Policy Institute estimates, said Adonia Simpson, managing attorney of immigration legal services at the Catholic Charities’ Esperanza Center in Baltimore. “That program wasn’t slated to start until mid-May, so we still have some time. As a legal services nonprofit, we’re trying to stay very optimistic.”
But that optimism might not extend to the immigrant community. Many undocumented immigrants were wary when the new protections were announced in November, said Hayley Tamburello, an immigration attorney with a solo practice in Baltimore. Their concern has only increased with the ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas, who granted the 26 states challenging the president’s executive order a pretrial injunction.
“I’ve been speaking with different immigrant populations and the question always comes up, what if this program is taken away or the court says that this is not an acceptable use of the president’s power — then what?” Tamburello said. “The fact that this injunction is in existence is just promoting fear among the immigrant population.”
But Elizabeth Keyes, who directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said she’s seen more apprehension about the impact of the end of Obama’s term on the programs’ fate than about the temporary delay.
“The fear we had been seeing in the community before — it was really just about the next presidential administration, and so that fear is probably still lurking,” she said. “This particular bump in the road hopefully shouldn’t create more fear, although it will cause more confusion.”
However, Keyes said it’s unlikely a future administration would eliminate the programs if they’re successfully implemented, and even more unlikely that the government would initiate a mass deportation of those who were enrolled.
“There’s no real interest in doing that,” she said. “That fear is really understandable; it’s just not well-founded.”
Misinformation about the executive order and the new programs abounds in the immigrant community, attorneys said, and will likely continue to proliferate after the pretrial injunction.
“People are taking this injunction and thinking it’s the final order of the court when it’s only temporary,” Tamburello said. “It’s a hurdle, but it’s not a ruling as to whether or not the Obama administration will ultimately be successful in implementing it.”
In addition to establishing DAPA for parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents who’ve been in the country since Jan. 1, 2010, Obama’s order also included an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was established in 2012 and gave about 1.2 million immigrants the chance to apply for deferred deportation and work permits. That original DACA program remains in place — the injunction halts the expansion, which would add about 300,000 people to the program and was set to begin accepting applications on Wednesday.
For those going through the immigration court process now, Simpson said, it’s important to note that the injunction only halts implementation of DAPA and the expansion of DACA; it doesn’t nullify Obama’s call to prioritize the deportation of criminals.
“That is what’s untouched by the decision,” Simpson said. “As attorneys, we still have the argument that certain people are not a priority, that they’re not a recent arrival or an immigration violator or a threat to national security. We would argue that their cases should be administratively closed.”
While it’s not a long-term solution, Keyes said, it’s an argument immigration attorneys can employ for now.
“It doesn’t put a work permit in their hands, but certainly being on the non-priority list is going to be very helpful,” she said.
In the meantime, immigration lawyers and legal services organizations say they have no plans to slow down outreach efforts, stressing that “notario fraud” — individuals taking advantage of immigrants by offering legal help they’re not qualified to offer — will continue to be an issue as confusion about the injunction persists.
“Is it going to be a few days? Is it going to be months? We don’t know when things will develop,” Simpson said, “but they have to make sure they’re seeking advice from reputable immigration attorneys.”