Around 30 immigrant advocates stood outside the Robert E. Coyle Federal Building in downtown Fresno Thursday afternoon, holding signs that read “Keep our families together,” and “I am America.”
The U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on an Obama administration plan that would have shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Fresno advocates expressed disappointment in the decision and its potential to tear apart thousands of local families.
“We’re going to be leaving at least 3 million people in the shadows once again,” said Jesus Martinez, who coordinates the Central Valley Immigration Integration Collaborative. “Three million people who are not going to be able to contribute to the American economy.”
Most of those who would have qualified for Obama’s executive action – undocumented parents of children with legal status – were to be eligible for deportation relief and three-year renewable work permits if they passed background checks, paid taxes and proved their child was born before the date of Obama’s executive action.
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We’re going to be leaving at least 3 million people in the shadows once again.
Jesus Martinez, Central Valley Immigration Integration Collaborative
The Supreme Court tie vote leaves in place an appeals court ruling blocking Obama’s plan, which included two programs: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents and an extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The plan would have expanded the number of young immigrants who qualify under DACA, a federal program created in 2012 that halts their deportation and grants two-year renewable work permits if they meet certain criteria, including being born after June 15, 1981. The original DACA program remains intact under the Supreme Court decision, though its expansion would have extended the work permits by one year.
The expansion would have included unauthorized immigrants like Susana Bautista, who entered before January 2010.
Bautista, 19, arrived in the United States in 2008. Those eligible under the original DACA program must have arrived before June 15, 2007.
The Fresno State student said the Supreme Court decision was upsetting, but she still holds out hope for future immigration reform.
Bautista said her parents brought her to this country because there were no jobs in their Mexican home state of Oaxaca. She was scared at first, especially knowing no English.
“I didn’t have options,” she said. “I was 10, so the only option was to come.”
Though born in Mexico, Bautista considers herself an American. But her life is not like other Americans’ lives. “I feel unsafe because I don’t have the same rights,” she said.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 21,000 young unauthorized immigrants in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties qualify for the existing DACA program. Another 24,000 would have qualified for the extension, and 67,000 undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents would have qualified for DAPA.
Those eligible for the failed relief constitute 48 percent of the unauthorized population in Madera County, 51 percent in Fresno County and 58 percent in Tulare County.
Some advocates saw Thursday’s decision as fuel for the upcoming election. Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, saw the deadlock as a failure by the Supreme Court to curb anti-immigrant efforts by Republicans.
“Our nation, one that was built on the backs of immigrants, should rise and demand more, demand ethics, demand justice,” he said. “This vote is a reminder that we live in a world that is run by men and women who choose their own tribe over the whole.”
Yenedit Valencia, with the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities, broke the news Thursday morning to her mother, who would have qualified for DAPA.
“It was a difficult conversation to have,” Valencia said, her voice cracking, “to have to tell her there still isn’t (a solution) for the immigrant community.”