Court ruling extends legal limbo for immigrants

U.S. Mexico border

When President Obama announced last November that more than four million immigrants in the country illegally would be eligible for new protection from deportation and for work permits, the farm workers at Tuxedo Corn in Olathe celebrated with a party.

Many of the Tuxedo workers would have qualified for Obama’s orders extending protection to parents of citizen children. These undocumented workers were buoyed by the hope that they could stop living in the shadows and would no longer have to fear their families would be torn apart at any time.

Now, their hopes have been dashed by a complicated 60-page circuit-court ruling that, on the surface, has to do with state vs. federal authority and with the cost of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants. But, in impacts on ordinary lives, it extends the limbo they have lived in for decades.

[pullquote]“This is an emotional setback. I think it is the hardest on the kids. Kids have been excited about seeing their parents live in less fear and be able to become a more integral part of the community.”[/pullquote]

“Oh boy. They are going to give up hope. I can see that. They are going to have to stay underground,” said Tuxedo owner John Harold. “What are they going to do? They have no homeland. Some of these workers have been here 20-plus years.”

Immigrants like Harold’s workers were jolted Tuesday by the court ruling that has, for the time being, killed their chances of staying in the country without threat of deportation.

Some had already hired attorneys and started the process of collecting the necessary documents for the extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

The first measure grants protection to the Dreamers, those who were brought to the United States as children and who have no felonies or significant misdemeanors on their records. They must be in school or graduated, and cannot be considered threats to national security or public safety. That program was instituted in 2012 for immigrants who were brought to the United States before June 2007 and were under the age of 16. The expansion of that program that is now being halted was going to extend the cutoff date for entering the country to January 2010.

The second measure would give protection to parents of citizen or legal-resident children. The parents had to have been in the country prior to January 2010 and have the same clean record as the Dreamers.

The two measures didn’t create a path to citizenship. But they did remove the threat of deportation. The focus of the measures was to keep immigrant families together.

“This is an emotional setback,” said immigration attorney Jennifer Smith. “I think it is the hardest on the kids. Kids have been excited about seeing their parents live in less fear and be able to become a more integral part of the community.”

The setback came in a split 2-1 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. The 60-page ruling found that an injunction imposed by a federal judge in Texas last February could continue while that judge considers a lawsuit from 26 states over the constitutionality of Obama’s executive orders on immigration. That remains to be litigated. The finding Tuesday determined that the injunction could remain in place because Obama’s new policies would create a financial burden when it comes to issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants.

Immigration attorney Jeff Joseph said he was not surprised by the decision, but has hopes as the matter moves through the courts that Obama’s executive orders will ultimately be upheld.

“We’ve lost the battle,” Jospeh said, “But not the war.”

has been a journalist for more than 40 years, most of that on the Western Slope of Colorado. She worked for The Denver Post for 17 years and currently is freelancing and exploring book possibilities in “retirement.” She likes nothing better than telling the unique, and sometimes quirky, stories of the Western half of the state.