Immigration: looking beyond United States v. Texas
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The announcement of the recent Supreme Court decision comes as little surprise to those who have followed the case.

The State of Texas originally challenged President Obama’s authority to provide deportation relief and work authorization to nearly 4.4 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents under the 2014 Deferred Action for Parental Accountability executive action (DAPA), as well as a broader group of undocumented youth under an expanded version of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). 

The split 4-4 decision allows the Lower 5th Circuit Court decision against the administration to stand.


Much of the news cycle amongst advocates has focused on the devastating consequences of the continued injunction for families and the economy. The faces of those affected are all over social media, both tearful and in defiant resolve to continue to the fight.

In a context of extreme political uncertainty, what can advocates do, and what have they in fact been doing, to continue to better the lives of immigrants in the United States, including the 11 million of whom live in fear of deportation every day?

First, continue to challenge the current deportation of 400,000 immigrants a year, and hold those purportedly pro-DAPA politicians (including the President himself) accountable for their commitment to immigrant rights.  

The status quo in this country, thanks to the Republican Party, but also with lots of help from Democrats, has been a security-first approach.  This has led to the terrorization of countless (and largely Latino) communities, under the guise of national security and order. 

Both the sitting President and frontrunner candidates have effectively promoted continued large scale deportation. While the President’s revamped priorities under “PEP-COMM” would make DAPA-eligible immigrants a low priority for deportation, the discretion of immigration agents makes no guarantee that these policies will be respected.

Second, and relatedly, we must see the fate of undocumented immigrants as a social justice issue for women and all people of color. The same industries that profit from the current detention of 34,000 migrants (many of whom would not benefit from DAPA), are also fierce lobbyists against gun reform and who espouse the continued criminalization of brown and black men, especially. 

Similar, ostensibly progressive, proposals to stiffen penalties (especially jail time) for <insert your issue of choice>, must be scrutinized for the impact they will have on immigrant communities through targeted enforcement.

For example, many otherwise eligible applicants have found themselves unable to access DACA due to criminal bars. Our failed drug policy and proven system of racial profiling have contributed to their exclusion, and also to that of green card holders who might otherwise naturalize and vote. 

Third, we must do everything we can to support local communities and advocacy organizations who are fighting to push for new rights and to implement the rights that already exist. This means both resources and political will to help empower local governments to incorporate immigrants, and fight against those that actively take punitive exclusionary stances that fly in the face of decades of civil rights protections. 

It also means funding for nonprofit organizations and other advocacy groups who, political scientist Els de Graauw argues, do the work on the ground to make these immigrant rights real and hold elected officials accountable. 

This will happen both through formal channels of policy advocacy, as well as direct action and community organizing on high school and college campuses, in immigrant communities, and at the workplace. All should be actively encouraged and supported.

Lastly, we must stop framing immigration as simply a domestic issue. It is a core international relations plank. Indeed, the legacy of U.S. foreign policy has fomented instability in sending communities, and forged peculiar bilateral allegiances that allow us to frame some migrants as deserving and others as trespassers who defy the law. 

Despite our frequent disregard for international law, our international economic and political policies directly impact migrant flows. For example, the recent stream of refugees from Middle Eastern countries ravaged by U.S. militarism (with help from their allies) are a clear reminder of how small our world is. 

Similarly, Central American refugees are fleeing the effects of economic and political turmoil facilitated by U.S. intervention. It is also no accident that Mexico, the country from which the largest flow of migrants to the U.S. hail, is also one of our largest trading partners, the dumping ground for cheap multinational production facilities, and in the midst of a prolonged drug war that we helped create. Similar examples throughout Latin America and Asia abound.

So as we regroup after this recent defeat, let us support the work of advocacy groups, from those lobbying Congress to those engaging in direct action at city hall, to advance the rights of migrants, and in doing so, advance all of our own rights as well.

Gleeson is an associate professor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (Department of Labor Relations, Law & History) at Cornell University, and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.