Advocates optimistic on immigration

Updated: 2015-02-24 12:09

By Lia Zhu in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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A San Francisco-based Chinese advocacy organization on Monday expressed optimism that a Texas judge's order blocking President Obama's immigration relief program will be overturned in appeals court.

"We, and the communities and organizations that we work with, all are optimistic that the injunction will be overturned," said Annette Wong, immigrant rights program manager with the civil rights organization Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA).

The injunction that Wong referred to was imposed by US District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas on Feb 16 to block President Barack Obama's executive action which provides protection for undocumented immigrants from deportation. Roughly 5 million people nationwide are eligible for the relief program, including the extended DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability).

However, 26 states, headed by Texas, convinced the judge that they would suffer financial burdens as the immigrants would be issued work permits and drivers' licenses and be able to apply for federal benefits after meeting certain requirements, like passing a criminal background check. They also argued that the president failed to follow required procedures for changing federal rules.

"We are definitely disappointed that the judge in Texas imposed the injunction on the new DACA and DAPA, because so many people are going to benefit from the program," said Wong.

Federal agents were supposed to start processing the applications on Feb 18 and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants are eligible for DACA and DAPA relief.

"We feel like there have been so many roadblocks for people to find a relief," Wong said.

"Republicans and Congress refused to vote on an immigration reform bill, so President Obama had to take the executive action to offer community members relief. Now that the relief is offered, this judge in Texas has made it more difficult for people to come forward and apply," said Wong.

According to CAA's data, the application rate among the Chinese community is low. During the first round of DACA, which was started in 2012, the Chinese application rate was 5 percent of those eligible.

"We are very concerned that, with the injunction which is causing more fear in our community, people will feel 'this is not a safe program, we shouldn't apply,' " said Wong.

In response to the judge's ruling last week, CAA issued a statement, saying, "This injunction defies legal precedent and we expect it to be appealed and overturned shortly."

On Monday, the Obama administration gave Hanen an alternative of putting on hold the order by Wednesday before it goes directly to an appeals court to file a stay on the injunction.

The Justice Department filed an appeal on Monday to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the 26 states lack any authority over the nation's immigration policies.

This situation is a setback, but it is temporary, said Wong. "President Obama has legal experts and immigration experts who both agree that the president has the power to implement this executive action."

Historically, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used executive authority to offer similar immigration relief to set priorities for immigration. "The priorities the president set are not out of line with the priorities of the congress, so we believe that the injunction and the ruling will be overturned on appeal," Wong said.

At the meantime, the immigration advocate also encourages community members to continue to seek out information on the immigration relief program, to continue gathering documents and the required fee ($465). "Because we anticipate that this is just a roadblock for now," she said.

The organization has beefed up education and outreach efforts in the Chinese community.

"If you are Chinese and you are undocumented, you are not alone. There are thousands of people like you out there. If you are nervous about applying or if you have a lot of questions, you can come forward to community-based organizations, like CAA," Wong said.

So far, about 300,000 undocumented Chinese immigrants are living in the US, and 92,000 of them are eligible for President Obama's relief program which was announced in November last year.