Undocumented immigrants living in the United States, many of them Liberians, are treading a thin line following a U.S. Federal Appeals Court ruling on Monday against President Obama’s plan to shield up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The court’s latest decision has dealt another blow to the Obama administration’s effort to remake immigration laws and likely setting up a final battle in the Supreme Court next year, The Washington Post reported.
The two to one ruling from a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans to uphold a lower court’s injunction that blocks the administration from implementing a ¬deferred-action program was not unexpected.
The decision, according to the paper, came several months after the same court had denied an emergency stay request from the Justice Department. The decision means that one of Obama’s signature immigration initiatives remains on hold nearly a year after he announced it through Executive Action, and leaves in doubt whether the program will begin before his term expires in January 2017.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates have pledged to dismantle the program, creating additional urgency within the Obama administration to get it started.
Immigration advocates, who feared time was running out to get the case before the high court next year, called on the administration to appeal quickly, and maintained confidence that the Supreme Court would issue a favorable ruling by next June.
“Every single day that goes by means further delays,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has closely followed the case. “Once the green light is given (by the Supreme Court) it will make it that much more difficult for any administration, Republican or Democrat, to undo the program.”
A White House official said the administration strongly disagreed with the court’s decision, and was reviewing its legal options.
“This lawsuit is preventing people who have been part of our communities for years from working on the books, contributing to our economy by paying taxes on that work, and being held accountable,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. After House Republicans blocked a comprehensive immigration bill last year, Obama announced plans to use Executive Action to dramatically expand a 2012 program that deferred the deportations of so many of the immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children.
Under the new program, the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens would be eligible to remain and apply for three-year work permits, provided they had not committed other crimes and lived in the country at least five years prior to the court ruling on Monday.
“Monday’s ruling is a slap in the face to the good people in America, who have also been waiting for Congress and the courts to act with justice, humanity and common sense on the issue of immigration reform,” said Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
TPS to DED
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), TPS was enacted in 1990 to apply to non-resident foreigners wishing to avoid returning to their respective homelands, including Liberia, because of civil strife or effects of a natural disaster of “extraordinary and temporary conditions.” Those foreigners who were to benefit from this TPS were people not seeking permanent U.S. residence, such as asylum applicants. Students or visitors whose visas were expiring were spared from seeking a visa extension by this provision. However, in practice, the true beneficiaries of TPS were not temporary visitors, but rather people who had entered the US illegally.
Controversy surrounding status of the immigrants began when FAIR’s executive director Dan Stein said in congressional testimony on March 4, 1999, “Our laws should not reward illegal immigrants to the US regardless of the political or natural upheavals in their homelands. Otherwise, experience shows that we will encourage further illegal immigration. By now, we should have learned from experience that TPS is misnamed – what we offer as “temporary” protection is most often seen by the aliens residing illegally in the US as a foot in the door to legal permanent residence. They are happy to accept our offer of humanitarian concern, but they have no intention of departing the US when TPS status expires.”
Not only did TPS spare illegal aliens from deportation, it provided them a quasi-legal status in the country and gave them work permits so that they could legally work.
But, the intent of TPS was to protect individuals, not their governments. The Liberian example was not the first of the Clinton Administration heeding the concerns of foreign governments in deciding TPS designation. It had done so earlier when Central American countries that asked that the US not to deport their nationals who had benefited from TPS, arguing that they did not have jobs available for the prospective returnees. And the practice of acceding to pressure from US “immigrant rights” groups and from the Liberian government to continue temporary protection against deportation did not end with the end of the Clinton Administration.
In 2007, President Bush found that TPS for Liberians was no longer justified and terminated it. However, at the same time, he ordered that the Liberian beneficiaries of the expiring TPS not be deported and instead be granted Deferred Enforcement of Departure (DED), a status that normally is extended only on a case by case basis based on unusual hardship. That DED designation was set to finally expire in 2009. But again, before it expired, it was extended for an additional year by President Obama. He did so again in March 2010 for an additional 18 months on the basis that there are “compelling foreign policy reasons.” The continuing “temporary” status of the Liberians has led to efforts to adopt an amnesty for them to provide permanent legal residence.