Co-Authored By Sam Adair
This week, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hannen denied the Obama administration's request that would have allowed applications for hardworking immigrant parents and young adults to stay in the U.S. This decision represents another frustrating delay on actions that could impact the lives of at least 3.7 million people currently living in the U.S.
The two immigration programs that a coalition of 26 states and and the White House are fighting over are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability). They were created and then expanded by President Obama to help those brought to the U.S. as children without criminal records, as well as undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, stay and work in the U.S.
Three million is a big number, but this issue is really about your friends, colleagues and employees -- those you most likely consider to be the "good guys."
As professionals connected to immigration -- both as an immigration lawyer (Sam) and an early childhood researcher with immigrant families (Jennifer) -- we get calls on a pretty regular basis about friends of friends who are here illegally.
When Sam takes the calls, they almost always go like this:
Caller: Hey you're an immigration lawyer right?
Caller: Listen, I know this guy. He is a really GOOD guy. Super hard worker. He has a family, owns a house and has been here for years. Anyway, he was telling me that he doesn't have the right paperwork to be here. I want to sponsor him for a green card or citizenship or whatever. What do we need to do?
Sam: There is nothing that you can do.
Caller: No, I'll pay for the paperwork and stuff. Just let me know what I need to do.
Sam: There is literally nothing that you can do.
People are incredulous. They think we are unwilling to help out or just being difficult. Often these callers are not particularly pro-immigrant but they can't believe there is nothing that can be done to help the person that they know.
When speaking of immigration, politicians and policy makers often say that those that are here illegally need to go to the back of the line. Those who say this are oversimplifying the situation. There is no single line for immigration. Once someone has come to the U.S. without documentation or overstays their visa status, with very few exceptions, they lose the ability to get in a line for up to 10 years. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that the wait for someone to come to the U.S. from Mexico when sponsored by a relative can take around 20 years or more. And that is if they have a relative already living in the U.S.
As an attorney, Sam does not usually handle family cases for individuals who come to the U.S. without papers. He represents companies that bring in highly skilled workers from around the world: the best scientists, doctors, athletes and business leaders. Unlike the cases in DAPA and DACA, his clients' cases are straight forward and face little objection because there is a relatively clear path through the process.
Still we usually end up talking to the friend and Sam tries to see if there is anything that can be done. But there is usually nothing to be done, hardly ever a clear path to documentation.
This is why.
Generally, under U.S. immigration law you have to have some sort of tie to the U.S. in order to be able to immigrate. The primary ties that are recognized in the law are either an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident or you have to be a highly skilled worker being sponsored by an employer.
There are currently millions of people who live in the U.S. who would qualify for a family-based or even an employment-based application. Yet because they are out of status or came without documentation in the first place (even as a child) they have no means by which they can adjust their status to fix past immigration problems. These are people who have families, who have jobs, who have spent years building lives in the U.S. They are not criminals, nor do they deserve to be forced to depart the U.S. at this point in time.
And many of the "good guys" are mothers and fathers of school-age children. In fact it is estimated, as of 2012, that 6.9 percent of children in the U.S. in K-12 and have one undocumented parent. In Texas, California and Arizona, it is 11 to 13 percent of school-age children.
This is why deportation protection is important.
It is estimated that there are between 3.7 and 5 million people who would benefit from the DAPA and expanded DACA programs. These programs would provide a temporary avenue for adults -- often parents of school-age children -- who are here working and living in fear of deportation.
Both programs require background checks, clear criminal records and an extended presence in the U.S. to qualify. Those who will qualify will likely have been employed long term in the U.S., they will have U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident children, and they will have no criminal records.
And yet lots of people are fighting against these families.
In response to the federal judge's decision in Brownsville, Texas, politicians like U.S. Rep Steve King (R-Iowa) and recently announced presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are ecstatic, gloating that this decision blocked a "lawless executive amnesty."
These lawmakers and judges should be accountable for the bad news that your good friend or employee or neighbor cannot stay.
While DACA and DAPA can't help all families, it is a start for some individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children without proper documentation. They are not criminals. They are not people looking for a handout from the government. They are people who want to work and go to school. They often already work at multiple jobs, care for children and pay taxes. But they do this with a constant threat hanging over their heads that forces them to live unfairly in fear.
Sam Adair is an immigration attorney practicing in Austin, Texas representing individuals and companies around the world. Sam serves on the board of directors for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and is a founding attorney of the immigration law firm of Graham Adair.