Disappointed in the DAPA Decision Deadlock

Gen-JD-whitaker On Thursday, the immigration law community was disheartened by the Supreme Court’s tie on the decision on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  The tie affirms the decision of the lower court to place an injunction against the implementation of both the DAPA and expanded DACA programs.

DAPA would have provided undocumented parents of American citizens with a work permit and social security number, but not a pathway to citizenship.  Expanded DACA would have made more individuals eligible for the original DACA program.  Although deferred action does not confer any permanent legal status, it permits undocumented individuals to do things we generally take for granted.  With a social security number, undocumented individuals can get a driver’s license in some states, apply for a credit card and build credit history, and pass a background check to volunteer and be eligible for more job opportunities.

Around the beginning of the year, the Obama administration initiated a surge of immigration raids, a policy in stark contrast to the DACA and DAPA programs. During that time, one of my former English students, a Central American mother of three American citizens, called me in tears.  She thought she saw an agent from Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) following her in the parking lot of the restaurant where she worked.  She’d heard about the raids and knew that her undocumented status left her vulnerable and at risk of deportation at any time.

She told me that she hadn’t left the house in one week.  Not to go to work.  Not to go to the grocery store.  Not to take her three children to their elementary and middle schools – for a whole week.  She believed it was the only way to protect herself and her children from being separated or returning to country where her children would be recruited by gangs or raped and tortured.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t offer her much solace.  It was true that the ICE raids were occurring in almost every part of the country and she had little constitutional protection outside of her home.  There were reports of ICE apprehending mothers and children at bus stopscongregants in front of their churches, and droves of people at their workplaces.  I told her about DAPA and that we were waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision.  It was her only hope.

She wasn’t the only person anxiously anticipating the DAPA decision.  For the approximately five million undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children, DAPA is the only form of immigration relief that can give them some kind of legal status.  Imagine living in fear of attending your child’s elementary school concert or an English language class at your church.

ICE raids and the injunction on DAPA disadvantage the American children growing up with undocumented parents who fear becoming involved in their children’s schools and community activities.  The current conditions will only push these children further outside the fold as they see their family members dehumanized and subjected to daily fear of being apprehended and deported.

As an immigration lawyer and English as a Second Language teacher, my heart breaks for the millions who are disappointed by the recent Supreme Court decision.  Advocates have pledged to continue to request that the Department of Justice limit the injunction to only the Fifth Circuit and to push for general immigration reform for our broken system.

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