- Immigrants & Refugees
One Year On: Immigrant Families Still Looking for Solutions
One year ago, FCNL staff were wrapping up a vibrant Annual Meeting, spirits high after being surrounded by over 400 Quakers and advocates who sought to have public policy match up with Quaker values. During the opening plenary session on November 20, 2014, President Obama simultaneously announced his plan to help immigrant families in need, in the absence of congressional action.
The plan was multi-faceted, but an extraordinary aspect was the announcement of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) programs. When implemented, these programs would temporarily protect an estimated 5 million parents from being torn from their children and young adults from being deported to foreign countries unknown to them. The announcement had a staggering impact on families who have been living with fear and anxiety of separation by deportation for decades, with no means of remedying their predicament within our broken immigration system. Families with mixed immigration status watched the announcement through tears, as they thought with disbelief that their nightmares of separation had temporarily come to an end. We were all full with hope.
Ruth and I hurriedly typed up an action alert that night, just moments after the President’s speech ended:
DAPA/DACA+ would temporarily protect 5 million parents from being torn from their children and young adults from being deported to foreign countries unknown to them.
Immigration: President Takes Executive Steps, Congress Still Needs to Act It’s time to get to some solutions.
Executive actions only last as long as a president’s term, unless the incoming president chooses to re-enact that executive action. Congress, on the other hand, as the governing body of the United States, has ultimate authority and responsibility to authorize lasting measures.
Every U.S. president since 1956](https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/executive-grants-temporary-immigration-relief-1956-present) has enacted temporary relief for immigrants through executive action, usually quickly followed by a bill in Congress that codifies the action. When Cuban immigrants fled Castro’s regime, Presidents Nixon, Kennedy, and Johnson all responded by implementing a parole program while legislation stalled in Congress. Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. both took initiative to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation while the House and Senate struggled to pass immigration reform legislation, affecting almost half of the undocumented population at the time. President Clinton granted deferred deportation to immigrant survivors of domestic violence while the Violence Against Women Act was pending authorization.
In this case, President Obama acted in the absence of action in the House to approve the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform package or move on a bill of its own creation. In the meantime, millions of undocumented immigrants and their family members live in limbo, entrenched in their lives as Americans with no path towards legalization since our immigration system is in dire need of revision. The November 2014 executive action was meant to be a brief moment of relief while Congress came up with lasting solutions, but unfortunately the 113th Congress came to a close at the end of December 2014 and the Senate comprehensive immigration reform package expired without the House even bringing it to the floor.
The 5th Circuit’s decision to reiterate the delay is disheartening for all of us working to provide relief for immigrant families, those who this temporary action affects most closely.
One year later, immigrant families are still in limbo as the deferred action piece of the administrative action remains caught up in the courts. Texas and 25 states suedthe administration over the executive action, first filed in December 2014. Then the case was heard by a district judge in Brownsville, TX who delayed the programs by issuing a preliminary injunction in April 2015, just days before the application period for DAPA/DACA+ was meant to open. The decision was based on the procedure of the executive action instead of the content, and the administration quickly appealed it. After a long stall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled on November 10, 2015 to maintain the delay. Finally, last Friday, on the one year anniversary of the executive action, the Department of Justice appealed the ruling again – this time to the United States Supreme Court.
Though not unexpected, the 5th Circuit’s decision to reiterate the delay is disheartening for all of us working to provide relief for immigrant families, those who this temporary action affects most closely. Without the implementation of DAPA/DACA+, families are being unjustly torn apart by deportation and immigrant detention on a daily basis. In the absence of congressional movement, our immigration system continues to be unfair and unsustainable. Individuals are unjustly caught up in the partisan rhetoric, subjected to family hardship through separation, while our governing body refuses to govern.
As we each gather around the table this Thanksgiving, let us think about families who are gathering with continued uncertainty. Let us hold them in the Light as the Supreme Court takes up the case in the next few months. Let us keep them in our hearts as we continue to urge Congress to discuss, debate, and enact fair and compassionate solutions for immigrant families who are part of our communities and this nation’s fabric. As we enter the Advent season - a time of waiting and anticipation - let us remember the immigrants who wait in hope for relief from deportation, release from detention, and comprehensive immigration solutions.