AAPI advocates urge Supreme Court to uphold Obama’s executive action
By Jon D. Melegrito
Immigrant rights activists in the Asian American Pacific Islander community are delighted. On January 18, the Supreme Court agreed to review President Obama’s Executive Order granting immigration relief to an estimated 5 million undocumented parents of American citizens. If the highest court upholds the president’s action, many Asian immigrants stand to gain a three-year reprieve from deportation – including approximately 45,000 Filipinos.
A decision is expected in June, a month before the national Republican and Democratic parties select their presidential nominees.
The issue of immigration has been a contentious one during the presidential campaign. The Democrats have overwhelmingly supported the President, while Republican candidates (notably Donald Trump) have called for mass deportation of all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
In November 2014, the President established the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA) and expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program (DACA+). He signed it after the Republican-controlled Congress failed to enact changes in the country's immigration policies.
But a Texas court challenged the constitutionality of President Obama’s Immigration Executive Action. Twenty-six states have since sued the government in federal court. Last November, the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals decided to block the implementation of the Expanded DACA and DAPA programs from taking effect, leaving millions of undocumented immigrants, including more than 400,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in limbo without administrative relief.
Determined to see the President’s program implemented, the White House asked the Supreme Court last December to review the lower court orders. Blocking the Obama plan kept the administration from issuing work permits to the immigrants and allowing them to receive some benefits from the federal government.
On January 15, more than a hundred activists and families gathered in front of the Supreme Court, urging the nation’s top justices to take up the case.
Civil rights leaders, like Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), blasted the “politically motivated, anti-immigrant lawsuit,” which has “forced millions of parents and children to continue to live in the shadows, in constant fear of deportation and being separated from their families.” He urged the highest court to uphold Obama’s plan. “Not only are these policies morally right, they would create jobs and expand the economy,” he said. He later commended the court’s decision to hear the appeal, and applauded the Obama administration “for standing up for families and for the principle that people who work hard to make our country a better place deserve a chance to share in the American dream.”
Emily Kessel of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) read a testimony of a Mongolian student, Bati Tsogtsaikhan, who came to the U.S. at age 10 with his parents. Because of DACA, he was able to attend college at an affordable rate and get a driver’s license. In February, Tsogtsaikhan and other DAPA recipients met with President Obama to thank him for his initiatives, which have “opened doors for me. With DAPA, my parents would have the same benefit of working legally to provide a better living and opportunities for my younger brother, who was born in the United States.”
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A Victory for our Communities
"The decision for the Supreme Court to hear Texas v. United States should be celebrated as a victory for our communities,” said Gregory Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “The sad reality is that this has been and will continue to be politicized by conservative Republicans who claim to be advocates for our families. Now, brothers and sisters, is the time for Filipino Americans and the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander community to make our voices heard, come off the sidewalks and take action in the streets. Our collective power is what it will take for us to secure a victory in the courts and in our longer term fight for comprehensive immigration reform."
Added APALA National President Johanna Puno Hester: “President Obama’s Expanded DACA and DAPA programs are a crucial first step to address the nation’s immigration crisis and will curb criminalization in our communities. Fourteen months have passed since this immigration executive action was first introduced but the programs have stalled and have yet to be implemented due to the politically motivated lawsuit led by Republicans. We are hopeful the Justices of the highest court in the country will make the right decision to reverse the injunction and grant relief to millions undocumented Americans and their families.”
While a positive ruling by the highest court could benefit thousands of undocumented Filipinos, there is still trepidation. “An undocumented immigrant, like me, still faces the threat of deportation as seen through the recent immigration raids that arrested over 120 Central American immigrants and their families,” said Yves Gomes, APALA National Executive Board Member. “APALA will continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform until there is a clear pathway to citizenship inclusive of all immigrants and addresses the criminalization of black and brown communities."