Greisa Martinez saw her father, a Christian minister who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in California when she was just 2 months old, deported six years ago. She now fears her mother could soon meet a similar fate.
“My mother is utmost source of my anxiety over immigration reform,” Martinez said in a phone interview on Wednesday, the day after a federal appeals court panel declined to lift a hold that would have allowed a White House plan to shield approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation to take effect. Martinez, an organizer for the pro-immigration reform group United We Dream, said her mother was well-prepared for the implementation of President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA program, which intially would have gone into effect on May 19.
“Last week was supposed to be the week that we would celebrate,” Martinez said. “My mom would be able to legally drive to my sister’s college, just to visit, to get a job where she is treated with dignity, instead of packing envelopes at conventions, and to go back to school and realize her dream of being a teacher.”
Martinez said her story is shared in undocumented households around the country, where children of undocumented immigrants feel slighted by the Republican-led effort to block Obama's measures that could keep their families whole. Unless the GOP-controlled Congress takes up comprehensive immigration reform, Martinez and other advocates say the party could be in jeopardy with Latinos and other immigrant communities that are tired of waiting for a permanent fix to the nation’s complex immigrations laws.
“They don’t have a solution for my mother and I,” Martinez said, who also lived under the threat of deportation for years until she received a temporary work visa three years ago. “[DAPA] is only temporary and they are still blocking it. That’s just unforgivable."
Obama announced in November his latest executive actions on immigration that sought an expansion of a 2012 program protecting young immigrants from deportation who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. Obama’s order was also intended to extend deportation relief and work permits to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Obama said he took the action because immigration reform had stalled in Congress. But Republicans leaders in 26 states sued in January to stop the program, and a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction that halted it in February. The Obama administration has appealed, but failed to convince a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to let the program proceed ahead of additional arguments in the Republican lawsuit. Arguments in the case have been scheduled for July, according to the Associated Press.
National leaders have continued to press lawmakers for a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Obama's 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was only seen as a temporary fix, while some Democrats and Republicans have sought a grand compromise.
More than 787,000 undocumented immigrants have been approved for the first wave of DACA through December, according to the latest figures from the Department of Homeland Security. Obama's latest immigration plan would have opened the program to an additional five million people.
Advocates say the potential impact of the measure for parents is mostly clearly seen in the nation’s schools. Approximately 7 percent of K-12 students had at least one undocumented immigrant parent in 2012, according to an estimate by the Pew Research Center. Among those students, 79 percent were born in the U.S.
Nick Katz, a staff attorney at Make The Road New York, one of the largest immigrant advocacy groups in the state, said his organization held months of workshops to help immigrants prepare for the deferred action expansion. More than 1,750 undocumented immigrants were screened by the group and declared eligible for relief.
“In general, people are frustrated because immigrants are contributing to our country every single day,” Katz said. “They are helping out society function, yet they live in fear every single day. But they remain optimistic that the program is eventually going to start.”
Cesar Vargas, a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant who lives in New York, said he remains hopeful for his 70-year-old mother, who brought him to the U.S. when he was five. She would be eligible for some legal rights under Obama's new immigration proposal because of a young sibling who has legal status in the country. The measure would allow her to visit the graves of her parents and other relatives who have died in Mexico while she waited for legal status in the U.S.
“She has grandchildren and the grandchildren could never see her again,” said Vargas, co-founder of the pro-immigration reform group, the Dream Action Coalition. Vargas has attended college, earned a law degree and passed the New York State bar exam since receiving a temporary work visa under Obama's 2012 immigrant measure.
“Her life is here, especially because there is no family anymore in Mexico," he said of his mother. "But now she’ll have to wait until next year."