The federal appellate judges who heard arguments Friday on the injunction blocking the president’s immigration orders showed by their questions that they “don’t understand the realities of immigrants’ lives in the United States,” an immigrant advocate who was in the courtroom said later in a press conference. The three-judge panel, which is hearing an appeal from the federal government following a Texas judge’s decision in February to issue an injunction, was not expected to reach a decision Friday.
“The questioning reflects the complexity of immigration law,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, based in Los Angeles, after the hearing ended in New Orleans. Still, she said it was “very difficult to speculate how this panel of judges will rule,” and whichever party loses is expected to appeal, “so we know there will be a long legal battle.”
Texas and 24 other states brought a lawsuit against the U.S. government asserting that President Barack Obama’s executive actions -- one that expands a program protecting undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children from deportation and another that provides the same protection to parents of immigrants with legal status who are in the country illegally -- are unconstitutional and burden the states with the costs of implementing them. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, said the case could go forward and issued an injunction in February, a day before young undocumented immigrants were to apply to the program, known as DACA. Together, the programs were expected to shield some 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.
Three judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans are hearing the case. Their questions included how much discretion does the government have under the programs, whether the executive actions are a prelude to legalizing affected immigrants and if there is a difference between “lawful status” and “lawful presence” in the country, according to Hincapié.
In her view, the government does have discretion, since not every young illegal immigrant who applied for DACA when it was first rolled out in 2012 received benefits. She added that the programs are “not pretextual. We know the Obama administration … has deported over 2 million immigrants” since the president took office. And she said the “difference is clear” between lawful presence and lawful status, arguing that the Justice Department said DACA and DAPA provide only temporary lawful presence and not a path to citizenship.
During the oral arguments, nearly 500 people from across the country protested outside the courthouse, chanting slogans like “No papers, no fear,” and “Si Se Puede” (Yes We Can.) One protester held up a sign that read “We Belong Together.” There were no protesters from the other side of the immigration debate.
â€” TIRRC (@tnimmigrant) April 17, 2015
â€” Tus derechos en FL (@ACLUFLespanol) April 17, 2015
â€” TXOrganizingProject (@TXOrgProject) April 17, 2015
Saket Soni, executive director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, said the protests resonated in the courtroom. “We heard the sounds of the movement outside,” he told supporters after emerging from the courthouse. “The judges had to stay awake because while they were listening to the oral arguments, from the outside they heard the music of the movement, the cheering of the movement, the slogans of the movement and the collective dignity of our movement.”
Protesters said they were hopeful that the immigration plans would survive the legal challenge. “We’re going to have victory at the end because it’s our right,” said Martha Lugo of the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition.
“We have to make our voices heard,” added Brenda Castro of the Congress of Day Laborers in New Orleans, through an interpreter. “They continue to try and deport us. They continue to try to step on us. We have to continue pushing for our rights.”