NEW YORK -- At 16 years old, New Yorker Ana Victorino has big dreams. She wants to finish high school and go to college so she can become an orthodontist or a dentist. "I like teeth," Victorino said with a toothy grin. But like millions of other U.S. residents, Victorino is an undocumented immigrant, which means she has far fewer opportunities for higher education and good jobs, and the threat of deportation looms.
Victorino was one of dozens of undocumented immigrants who gathered in Midtown Manhattan on Friday and called for the immediate implementation of President Barack Obama's executive actions on U.S. immigration policy, which would shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria from deportation. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Friday heard arguments for and against the president's actions, which 26 Republican governors have legally challenged and a Texas judge has indefinitely blocked. Victorino, who is a youth member at the Make the Road New York nonprofit, appeared hopeful that a court decision would eventually rule in her favor. But Obama's immigration policies are temporary until Congress passes a comprehensive bill, and his presidential term will soon end, prompting concern that help is not on the way.
Christina Chang of the New York Immigration Coalition said she was not optimistic about the circuit court's ruling on Friday and expects the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case. Chang, 29, said a court ruling to lift the injunction on Obama's policies would certainly be a success for immigrants and allies, but it's not the end of the road. Some Republican presidential candidates for the 2016 election have made their sentiments about Obama's actions clear with anti-immigrant rhetoric. If a GOP candidate takes the White House in 2016, that person will likely repeal the previous administration's policies on immigration reform.
"We always said that this was a temporary solution, you know, a band-aid," Chang said in an interview Friday. "Even this temporary protection would be a second-class status in our country. At the end of day, we would push either Republican or Democratic candidate to support immigration reform."
Obama has said his executive orders to implement his "Deferred Action for Parents of Americans" and "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" programs are within his presidential authority and they will allow millions of undocumented immigrants who face deportation the opportunity to obtain legal status, driver's licenses, work permits and other government benefits.
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Deferring deportation would probably increase the nation's workforce, boost local, state and national tax revenue streams and create jobs for workers across the nation, according to economic data in states with large populations of undocumented workers. It will also help more immigrants become integrated into American society, creating safer and stronger communities, data suggests.
But critics argue Obama's policies will encourage further illegal immigration and will make U.S. cities unsafe. In San Francisco, a Mexican immigrant who had been deported five times has been accused of murdering a 32-year-old woman last week while she was walking along a city pier with her father, prompting cries for stronger immigration enforcement.
"How many Americans have to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed, or have their homes, cars and personal property burglarized, stolen or damaged before both the federal government and local governments like San Francisco will finally do what is necessary to lock up criminal aliens who are a danger to the safety and lives of the public?" Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., wrote in an op-ed piece for the foundation's news website, The Daily Signal.
Undocumented New York resident Ivette Astudillo was born in Mexico and moved to the United States with her parents and siblings when she was 6 months old. Astudillo, now 19, studies at nearby Hunter College but said she fears most for her parents, who are also undocumented and struggle to earn enough money for their family.
"I think it's just unfair that people look at me without knowing my story and without knowing what I've gone through," said Astudillo, who interns with the New York Immigration Coalition. "We are fighting so hard."