Last month, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Texas. The case, based on a lawsuit filed against the federal government by the State of Texas, will weigh in on the legality of President Obama’s executive actions creating the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanding the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA). It is the view of a large number of constitutional scholars and immigration experts - and one we strongly share at the Hispanic Federation - that there are ample and well-established historical precedents for the President’s actions concerning the setting of our nation’s immigration removal priorities.
But it’s easy to get wrapped-up in the legal arguments of the case, especially since the issues at stake include issues of states’ rights and the limits of presidential power. But as I read the transcripts of the arguments made at the Court, I was less interested in the legal arguments and more concerned about the ramifications of the justices’ decision on undocumented moms and dads. Moms and dads, to tell the truth, like mine.
Decades ago, my parents, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, overstayed their visas, and became like so many others before and after them, undocumented. Those years, years when my parents worked tirelessly to build a life for themselves and our family, were ones of fear and worry in our home. They knew that despite working, being active in their communities, paying taxes, and contributing to the greatness of their new nation, they were one deportation order away from losing it all. Looking back, now as a parent myself, I can’t tell you how much I admire their strength, courage, and ability to build as normal a family life as their status allowed them.
Eventually, my parents were able to regularize their status in the United States. Much older now, they watch and absorb the success that has accrued to their children and grandchildren. They love and are eternally grateful to our nation. We are the lucky ones. In the years since my parents were able to become citizens, our national outlook on immigrants has hardened. We have betrayed the values of openness and opportunity for the world’s dreamers that have made this country great. Congress has done little in more than twenty years to address the very real failures and shortcomings in our immigration system. They have opted for punitive laws and harsh enforcement over sensible and humane policies that would bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into full participation in our society.
President Obama’s executive actions in 2014 were designed to use the limited powers of the presidency to do what Congress had refused to do; namely, provide a temporary opportunity for a number of hardworking immigrants to stay in the country and work legally. The lawsuit brought by the State of Texas is a cruel rejoinder to the President’s attempt to address a problem that not many people in Texas, or Washington for that matter, seem interested in fixing. Confronted with action, they have yet again chosen obstruction.
By all accounts, the Supreme Court, caught in its own internal crisis after the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, should decide on U.S. v. Texas by late spring. I’ll be watching and waiting; thinking of my parents and the men and women who, like them, have risked everything to make a better life in America and, in turn, have made America better.
José Calderón is president of the Hispanic Federation.