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Supreme Court blocks two of Obama's immigration plans; a third program unaffected

By Bertrand M. Gutiérrez, Winston Salem Journal

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked two policy initiatives proposed by President Barack Obama to temporarily shield from deportation certain immigrants living in the United States without authorization, but a similar program he implemented four years ago remains in effect.
The case is United States v. Texas.

It involves Obama’s proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, and the expansion of the four-year-old initiative, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

DAPA would have allowed an estimated 4 million unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to apply for a two-year shield from deportation, which would have come with other such benefits as access to a work permit and a driver’s license.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a blow to thousands of American families,” said Helen Parsonage, an immigration lawyer at the EMP law firm in Winston-Salem. “Instead of offering a pathway for the parents of United States citizen children to come out of the shadows and to allay the fears of these children that their parents could be taken away from them, we have now taken away their hopes.”

Based on a principle of prosecutorial discretion used by past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, Obama announced DAPA in 2014 while saying that Congress had failed to pass legislation dealing with the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States without authorization.

Republicans pushed back, saying that only Congress may set immigration policy and that Obama had overstepped the constitutional powers of the executive, though that claim has been disputed by many immigration-law experts. After the decision, Republicans claimed victory.

“President Obama does not have the authority to legislate, and his unilateral actions on immigration are an overreach of his constitutionally granted executive authority,” said U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th. “This ruling is a victory for the Constitution, rule of law and our system of checks and balances.”

Peter Siavelis, a Wake Forest University political professor and the director of the Latin American and Latino Studies program, had a different take on the decision.

The Supreme Court judges were split 4-4, which let an appeals court decision stand.

By doing so, the high court sided with a decision favoring Texas — that the state would be burdened by having to provide benefits if DAPA and the expansion of DACA were allowed to go through. In this instance, the Supreme Court had two options. It could have either set the case aside for when a ninth justice is appointed or it could have let the lower court decision stand. By letting the decision stand, Siavelis said, no precedent was set.

The question of whether Obama exceeded the constitutional powers of the executive branch remains open.

“The justices pretty much skirted the constitutional issue,” Siavelis said.

The decision, he said, is being used by many Republicans to claim victory over Obama but it could move more Hispanics to vote Democratic in the November elections. The next president will appoint the next Supreme Court justice.

Some Hispanic voters will likely know someone who is not authorized to be in the United States, he said, and they’ll feel that much more solidarity with them, particularly in light of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s references to Mexicans as rapists, his plan to build a wall at the border and comments that a judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University cannot treat him fairly because of his Mexican heritage.

“This is going to energize Latino voters. This is going to put Latinos back into the Democratic column. No question about it,” he said.

In North Carolina, there are about 342,000 unauthorized immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute, which describes itself as a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington. Of those, about 100,000 may have been eligible for DAPA and about 38,000 for the expansion of DACA.
For the DACA program, which was started in 2012 to shield certain younger immigrants without serious criminal records from deportation, was not affected by the Supreme Court Decision. In North Carolina, there are about 33,000 potential beneficiaries, according to MPI.

Moises Serrano is one of them.

He grew up mostly in Yadkin County, which is in the 5th Congressional District, after being brought into the U.S. by his parents. Now studying public policy and politics at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, he is being featured in a documentary titled “Forbidden: Undocumented & Queer in Rural America,” which will premiere this summer at OUTFEST in Los Angeles.

“To think that today, thanks to a gridlocked Supreme Court and Congress, millions will go without the same opportunity as I did is absolutely enraging,” Serrano said.

“The right to live without fear should be a fundamental human right.

“To give every single person the ability to fulfill their talents, skills and assets to their fullest potential through an education and work permit should be a cornerstone of our democracy,” he said.

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