Immigration Relief Will Come Through the Courts Or the Ballot Box

We are living in historic times. The Confederate flag that was placed on the South Carolina Capitol dome 54 years ago to protest the civil rights movement has finally come down. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that victims of housing discrimination do not have to show intentional bias, and the court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage because they violated fundamental constitutional rights.

Victories in the battles against discrimination do not come easily or quickly, and they test our resolve to keep the faith during the lowest points of our struggles. While we celebrate the dismantling of institutional discrimination, we remain keenly aware of important challenges ahead with regard to discrimination — even hatred — against immigrants.

Many of us engaged in the long fight for immigration reform may be questioning whether we are at one of our lowest points, whether we can influence the negative political and legal trajectories of the recent immigration debates. The answer to both is “yes.”

Welcoming the Undocumented

Image via Richard Thornton/shutterstock.com

Image via Richard Thornton/shutterstock.com

The primary challenge facing immigration laws in the United States is not people crossing the border without authorization. In fact, a recent study from Pew Research Center shows that fewer people than ever are attempting to cross the border.

Rather, our dilemma with immigration is that people who are already here — some for several decades — without proper documentation face substantial difficulties in trying to integrate and contribute to the country. 

BREAKING: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Denies Emergency Stay on Executive Action Lawsuit

Image via Niyazz/shutterstock.com

Image via Niyazz/shutterstock.com

The Fifth Circuit will likely hold a hearing to decide whether to lift the preliminary injunction on the full appeal and allow implementation of the new DAPA/DACA programs to proceed. At the same time, the DOJ could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to impose an emergency stay against the injunction.

Despite the slow movement of the targeted lawsuit through the court system, support for immigrant families and the deferred action programs continues. More than 100 legal scholars have come forward declaring President Obama acted within his authority. Separate amicus briefs and public statements of support have been made by governors, attorneys general, law enforcement officers, dozens of large city mayors and public officials, and others in the case supporting the expanded DACA and DAPA programs.


Court Hears Arguments on Texas v. United States Injunction

Image via corund/shutterstock.com

Image via corund/shutterstock.com

Hundreds of immigrants and advocates from across the country gathered in New Orleans last week in support of President Obama's executive action programs on immigration. On April 17, the 5th Circuit Court heard oral arguments on the injunction filed in Texas v. the United States, which seeks to halt implementation of the executive action across the United States.

In February, federal district court Judge Andrew Hanen issued an injunction which temporarily delayed the extended 2012 Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs — programs that could protect as many as 5 million undocumented individuals.

A ruling is expected to be released within a few weeks but could come as early as this week.

The Department of Justice and many immigrants’ rights advocacy groups, including many in the faith community, have been diligently working to protect DAPA and DACA and demonstrate the negative impacts — including economic costs — that Judge Hanen’s ruling has created for communities across the country.  

Fortunately, the procedure to lift the injunction has been fast-tracked by the 5th Circuit Court, meaning that the judicial process has been sped up given the urgency of the overall case. Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, believes that the decision to accept the fast-track of the injunction is positive for the federal government because “it shows how the 5th Circuit seems to recognize that it is a very important case.”

Ruling on 26-State Immigration Lawsuit: 3 Things You Need to Know

A Texas court temporarily halted the President's Executive Action this week. Ima

A Texas court temporarily halted the President's Executive Action this week. Image courtesy danielfela/shutterstock.com

On Monday night, a Texas court temporarily halted the implementation of Obama’s Executive Action announced last November. Specifically, the ruling delays the application of the extended Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) — previously slated to begin on Feb. 18 — and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs until the ruling is superseded by a higher court.  

This ploy began in December, when a combination of governors and attorney generals from 26 Republican-run states sued the federal government to block the Department of Homeland Security directives from going in to effect. This lawsuit, Texas v. United States of America, challenges the legality of both the DACA and DAPA initiatives, which together would have granted nearly 5 million immigrants eligibility for temporary deferred action and work permits. 

Here’s what you need to know about the Texas vs. United States ruling in the aftermath of Monday night’s decision.

Homeland Security Funding the Latest GOP Bargaining Chip in Immigration Debate

Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com

Homeland Security police car in Washington, D.C., in Decmeber. Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com

In November, President Obama issued an executive action that would protect nearly five million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Yet, since Congress returned in January, many questions linger regarding the implementation of executive action and the status of comprehensive immigration reform.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing regarding “Deferred Action on Immigration: Implications and Unanswered Questions.” The purpose of the hearing according to Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was to “obtain a more complete understanding of the logistical, financial, and national security implications of these [executive action] policies.” Yet, many questions still remain.

Among other things, Obama’s November action expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and provided legal reprieve to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least five years. It protects a small number of the 11 million aspiring Americans who are living and working in the United States without documentation. At it is root, Obama’s executive action considers the people, not the politics that create division.

The GOP majority in Congress is attempting to oppose executive action by threatening to defund the Department of Homeland Security.

The Persistent Strain

THE WEEK leading up to the Michael Brown non-verdict was one in which race was at the forefront of daily life, at least as much as it was in the ancient days of my Mississippi upbringing.

You could say that week started with President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The next morning, I did household chores and listened to NPR coverage of the often-heated reaction to the president’s speech. The next day, my wife and I drove into Louisville to see Dear White People, Justin Simien’s devastatingly clever and thoughtful take on racism and identity politics among the Obama generation.

The movie made me laugh (at a volume embarrassing to my poor spouse) and even applaud in the middle of a crowded theater. It also left me pondering the persistence of the white supremacist virus in the American body politic. Over the past half-century, the film suggests, it may have evolved into a weaker strain, but it’s still lurking in there, and it can still make us sick.

A few evenings later, at the historically black college where I teach, my “Magazine and Feature Writing” class was discussing “Fear of a Black President,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which appeared in the September 2012 issue of The Atlantic. In his epic essay, Coates takes Obama to task for failing to follow up on his 2008 “Jeremiah Wright” speech in which he seemed poised to lead the U.S. in confronting its racial demons. At the same time, Coates also makes a fairly airtight case that, despite his efforts to not be the “black” president, opposition to Obama and his policies has often been motivated by fear and/or resentment of his race. Coates’ analysis centers especially on the right-wing firestorms that ensued when, in two famous racial-profiling cases, Obama acknowledged that he could identify with the victims because of his own race.

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Becoming a Better America

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

I am a newly minted American. Four years ago I passed the naturalization test and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. But I had been living as a citizen before I took the oath. Those who do not have the legal status of citizen often act as citizens. They attend PTA meetings, pay taxes, and engage in spirited public discussions about the common good. Citizenship is not only a legal status, but also a moral category and a set of practices.

President Obama recognizes this. Last night’s address described executive actions that will protect up to five million people from deportation and provide them with permits to work legally. People without valid immigration documents will be eligible to stay in the country temporarily if they have lived in the United States for more than 5 years, if they have children who are American citizens or legal residents, and if they register and pass criminal background checks.

Obama is not offering people citizenship, but his address reflected on the meaning of community belonging. “These people” often act like citizens, he seemed to be saying, because they “came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America's success.” To those of us who are citizens legally, Obama also had a message: Become better Americans.

President Obama's Remarks on Immigration Action

Editor's Note: Thursday evening, President Barack Obama announced he is taking action to reform pieces of our broken immigration system. See Sojourners President Jim Wallis' recap here. Below are President Obama's remarks as prepared for delivery. 

My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.

Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.

When Supporting Your Family Earns a Criminal Record

Noemi Romero's Family. Photo from Define American

Noemi Romero's Family. Photo from Define American

America was a free country. There, freedom is everything. Growing up, that was the picture I had. America was the country where you’re free to do whatever you want.

It all changed when I turned 16. I woke up excited, ready to go to the DMV and get my driver’s license like all my friends were doing -- and then my parents told me that I was here illegally. I was undocumented. Reality sunk in. America was not a free country for me.