The quintessential immigration story is as old as the country itself – mothers immigrating to the United States to find safer neighborhoods, better education prospects and employment opportunities for their children. From Latin America, the trip north is littered with life and death determining obstacles – untrustworthy coyotes paid to guide the journey but frequently more concerned with profit than human life, gangs looking to victimize the easiest of targets, not to mention the requisite food and water deprived physical contest.
Last week three undocumented Mexican mothers were faced with yet another obstacle in their quest for a better family life as the U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Obama’s expansion of immigration opportunities through the Executive Orders known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). In a split 4-4 decision, the Supreme Court inaction left in place a Texas lower court ruling blocking the White House action.
It is estimated that four million residents of the United States might qualify for DAPA if it were to be fully implemented. DAPA provides work authorization and protection against deportation for undocumented immigrants who are parents of citizens and who have lived here continuously for at least five years, among other conditions.
The U.S. Senate’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of DC Court of Appeals Chief Justice, Merrick Garland, has enabled lower court rulings to dominate the legal landscape and has infuriated the liberal legal community. In a press release, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) opined, “In the surest indication that the United States Senate majority’s refusal to do its job by confirming a ninth Supreme Court justice has very real and damaging consequences, an evenly divided Court today upheld the Fifth Circuit’s poorly-reasoned decision affirming Judge Andrew Hanen’s preliminary injunction against Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”
In further irony, Fifth Circuit Judge Hanen, who ruled against DAPA replaced Filemon Vela, who left his Fifth Circuit judgeship in order to serve in Texas’ 34th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Vela’s pro-immigration and anti-Trump rant went viral when his open letter to Trump concluded with, “I will not presume to speak on behalf of every American of Mexican descent, for every undocumented worker born in Mexico who is contributing to our country every day or, for that matter, every decent citizen in Mexico, but, I am sure that many of these individuals would agree with me when I say: ‘Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.’”
Not to be deterred, MALDEF and the immigrant mothers are resolute in their decision to soldier on in their quest for legal status. In the post-case press release, Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation proclaimed, “We will continue the legal fight alongside our clients who are three brave Texas mothers who stepped forward to join the case and defend DAPA and expand DACA. The case will move forward in the courts, and DACA 2012 remains in effect.”
MALDEF joined with two private firms in representing the three undocumented mothers, known as Jane Doe #1, #2, and #3, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court. O’Melveny and Myers is a top-50 law firm based in Los Angeles with alumni attorneys including former partner and former U.S. Secretary of the Army, Louis Caldera, and the late Warren Christopher who served as Secretary of State in the cabinet of President, Bill Clinton. DLA Piper is one of the world’s largest business law firms with 25 U.S. offices and attorneys in 30 countries throughout the world. George Mitchell, former U.S. Senator is Chairman Emeritus of the firm and former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle served as a policy advisor for a short time at the company.
Former Denver Public Schools Board of Education member and Northside immigration attorney, Arturo Jimenez, expressed discouragement about the Supreme Court ruling, but encouraged the community to look beyond the Supreme Court ruling. “The DAPA ruling is a very sad situation. So many folks were waiting for this as their final opportunity but there are other options. People shouldn’t be focused solely on DAPA and DACA and look past other opportunities.”
As an example of other potential legalization avenues for immigrants, Jimenez cites that 68 percent of Latino immigrants have been victims of violent crime but may be afraid to apply for a ‘U Visa,’ which might cover these circumstances, for fear of retribution.
The Department of Homeland Security explains that the U Visa was created in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, “To help law enforcement track and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking… while also protecting victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the crime and are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.”
Jimenez encourages immigrants to, “Look beyond the media, and what is on TV which is an incomplete analysis with too much surface level and sensationalized information. What is discussed is too political with Democrats against Republicans. Instead, look to improving your status within existing laws.” He also notes that the latest ruling does not address long term prospects, “If you look at DAPA and DACA, you might receive a deferral from deportation, a reprieve, but what happens after that?”
Jimenez encourages immigrants to consult the services of attorneys registered with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Established in part to, “… promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice…” With a couple hundred members in Colorado, attorneys can be sought on their web site at www.AILA.org. The web site features ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling. Denver attorney, Laura Lichter, is listed as General Counsel to the organization.