Tim Gaynor

‘We have to carry on fighting’: Migrants defiant after judge blocks reform

With Obama’s executive actions on immigration on hold, many vow not to give up, despite confusion

PHOENIX — Homemaker Rocio Andiola had been preparing to apply for President Barack Obama's program sheltering millions of migrants from deportation when a Texas judge issued an order blocking the program earlier this week.

Initially discouraged, she decided to carry on getting her documentation, regardless, to show that she is eligible for the expanded program of deportation relief for migrants like her, brought to the United States as children.

"When I found out about the delay, I felt they were playing games with us. It just made me feel mad," said Andiola, 35. "I don't know what comes next, but I am not going to give up.”

Her quiet defiance is shared by many migrants in this border state since U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued an injunction on Monday blocking the president’s immigration initiatives, which would have shielded up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and issued them work permits.

The first of the initiatives — an expanded version of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that began in 2012, which would apply to approximately 270,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — was slated to begin accepting applications Wednesday.

A new program, which would extend deportation relief to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), was scheduled to begin in May. Both have been indefinitely delayed, although the Obama administration said it will appeal the temporary injunction and fully expects to prevail in the courts.

"I'm ready to do whatever needs to be done to get relief," said Andiola, who was brought to the U.S. as a 15-year-old in 1995 and believes she fully qualifies for DACA relief. "I have been doing things right since I got here, and I think that I deserve an opportunity to get a work permit." 

Despite Hanen's ruling, she said she will continue to attend school in Phoenix two afternoons a week to obtain a GED certificate in support of the application she plans to file if the government wins in an appeal.

In his ruling, Hanen sided with 26 states — including Arizona — that filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the executive actions and said the constitutional questions at hand should be resolved before the pair of programs could proceed.

Arizona has been at the heart of a bitter national fight over immigration since then-Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a 2010 crackdown on illegal immigration. The state law was challenged by the federal government in court, although a judge upheld a key measure allowing police to question people about their immigration status during law enforcement stops.

‘The ruling was frustrating, difficult, but this is not the end of the process.’

Sandra Bernal

immigrant with U.S.-born children

Despite the court setback, Mexican-born mother Sandra Bernal — who has two U.S.-born children, ages 10 and 17 — also vowed to press on with her preparations to apply for the DAPA program in the hope that the government will prevail on appeal.

"The ruling was frustrating, difficult, but this is not the end of the process," said Bernal, who is originally from Jalisco state in western Mexico and came to the U.S. 15 years ago. "We have to carry on fighting, because you can't just do nothing."

While the government is not accepting applications for deportation relief, she said that she would continue to prepare to apply for DAPA in Phoenix. Immigrant rights activists have been organizing workshops to guide those living in the country illegally through the process ever since Obama announced his program in a televised speech on Nov. 20. 

As the start dates for applying for deportation relief approached, activists at migrant rights’ group Puente Arizona in Phoenix drew on their experience helping 600 young people apply for DACA in the first round three years ago and in springing 131 people from immigration detention to offer free workshops dispensing advice on how to apply. Despite Hanen’s ruling, Puente vows to continue with the workshops.

"We are very confident the ruling will be overturned, though the timeline may be delayed as a result of what is clearly political gaming with people's lives," said spokesman B. Loewe. "The workshops will continue to make sure people are clear on the status of the program and what they need to do to apply when it inevitably opens."

More than 100 undocumented homemakers, construction workers and students attended the first workshop organized by Puente, just days before Hanen’s ruling, to learn about eligibility for the programs and how to apply for them.

For Mexican-born construction worker Omar Garcia, there was some unexpected good news when he discovered that he qualified for a program that is not affected by the injunction. The victim of two violent robberies, he said he appeared in court as a government witness. He had hoped to apply for DAPA as the father of two U.S.-born children, but he learned that he would be better off applying for a U visa, a category open to victims of crimes such as trafficking and kidnapping who have suffered mental and physical abuse and help the government investigate and prosecute the offenses.

While a DAPA application costs $465 in fees and is valid for three years, he discovered that the U visa is free, family dependents may be included and there is the chance to apply later for a green card, or permanent residency.

"If I apply for the U visa, I might get all my family documented too," said Garcia. "I want to get a better life, better benefits and be able to buy a house.”

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