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Supreme Court Blocks Obama Immigration Order to Not Split Up Families
June 24, 2016 at 1:10 pm

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By Karen Ocamb, contributing journalist
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Diego Sepúlveda

The U.S. Supreme Court put a dent in President Barack Obama’s legacy Thursday by voting 4-4 on his executive order designed to give four million undocumented immigrants with US-born children work permits and save them the anguish of being split from their families through deportation. The court’s four conservative justices split with the four liberal justices in a lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 other states against the executive action Obama used in 2014 to bypass a Republican-controlled Congress.

The ruling directly impacts openly gay Diego Sepúlveda, 28, who has lived in Huntington Park for 24 years, during which time he developed a passion for justice “grounded in the belief that we are all deserving of respect, dignity, and love,” he says.

“My parents have taught me all I know and they have been my pillars in my life. Today’s Supreme Court decision is heartbreaking. Through my permanent residency status, my parents would have been eligible for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA),” Sepúlveda said in an email interview. “Because of today’s decision, after being in the country for over 24 years, my parents will continue to live with the fear of deportation and lack of employment opportunities. I want this country to know that my parents matter, and the other 11 million undocumented individuals in this country. My parents have given so much to me and this would have been one thing I could have done for them.”

The ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas blocking the order remains in place. But the court did not rule on the merits of the case, leaving future presidents legally free to take action—but also underscoring the need for comprehensive immigration reform through Congress to address the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The split decision also heightens the immigration issue in the November elections, with Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump promising to round up and deport the all 11 million while presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton proposes to expand and enhance Obama’s executive orders while working with Congress on a solution.

Obama explained what the ruling meant.  “I know a lot of people are going to be disappointed today. But it’s important to understand what today means. The deferred action policy that has been in place for the last four years is not affected by this ruling,” Obama told reporters Thudiego2 rsday. “Enforcement priorities developed by my administration are not affected by this ruling. This means that the people who might have benefited from the expanded deferred action policies — long-term residents raising children who are Americans or legal residents — they will remain low priorities for enforcement. As long as you haven’t committed a crime, our limited immigration enforcement resources are not focused on you.

“But, today’s decision is frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality into our immigration system,” Obama continued, “and to allow people to come out of the shadows and lift this perpetual cloud on them. I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who’ve made their lives here; who’ve raised families here; who’ve hoped for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military, and more fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way.”

There was swift reaction from Californians, too.

“Today’s Supreme Court deadlock leaves millions of families in America facing a troubled and uncertain future. It’s time for Congress to do its job,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.

Brown’s office also noted that last year, California joined more than a dozen other states in filing a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Obama’s executive actions “will benefit millions of people and their families, as well as the states in which they reside.”

Ensuring that California is perhaps the most progressive state in America on immigration issues, Brown has signed: the California Dream Act, which allows top students who are on the path to citizenship to apply for college financial aid; AB 60, which extends the legal right to drive on the state’s roadways; plus a number of other bills to enhance school, workplace and civil protections for hardworking immigrants. Brown also signed legislation providing legal services to the unaccompanied minors arriving in California from Central America and extending health care coverage and other protections to undocumented children and their families across the state. Additionally, Brown appointed a director of immigrant integration to serve as lead coordinator for statewide immigrant services and monitor for the implementation of immigration assistance programs.

Joining Brown for the AB 60 driver’s license signing ceremony on the steps of L.A. City hall were LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Today Garcetti expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to further delay President Obama’s executive action on immigration. Today’s ruling deepens uncertainty for families already at risk for a cruel separation. That’s not what America stands for. No matter what happens in Washington, the city of Los Angeles remains committed to supporting all families — no matter their immigration status or country of origin,” Garcetti said.

Equality California—whose expanded intersectional mission includes working on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—also reacted with disappointment.

“Because of this deadlock, millions of immigrants across the country, including many of the more than a quarter million LGBT undocumented immigrants here in California, will continue to live in daily fear of deportations that rip families apart” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California.  “This decision underscores the importance of the upcoming presidential election, and a choice between one candidate who is committed to bringing undocumented immigrants into the full life of our communities, and another who calls for the mass deportation of 11 million people. It also highlights the importance of an election whose winner may determine the composition of the Supreme Court and the ultimate outcome of DAPA and DACA. The election will determine whether the country will be governed by a Congress able to accomplish anything, including the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.”

Equality California estimates that there are more than 250,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants in California. The organization leads Equality4All, a collaborative of LGBT organizations in California focused on improving the lives of undocumented Californians, including those who would qualify for expanded DACA and DAPA.

Sepúlveda, who worked with Equality California ondiego3 the #Health4All campaign, says that he knows that his immigrant community is “resilient, powerful, and will continue to advocate for our collective liberation.” But right now, they are hurting.

While different organizations are talking about strategic next steps, Sepúlveda says, “I first and foremost want to heal. Today’s decision is still an open wound that I, along with my friends and family, must heal from. I will put our humanity at the forefront before any next steps. Nonetheless, make no mistake that I will, along with my fellow immigrant communities, continue to fight for respect, dignity, and justice in this country.”


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