Immigrants' Future Uncertain
For now, undocumented Texans still live under the shadow of deportation
On a recent weekend, more than 60 supporters of immigration reform – some advocates of undocumented workers, others immigrants and their children – descended on state Capitol grounds to urge the governor to reconsider his unbending stance on the issue. "¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!" they chanted, as they began the walk to the Governor's Mansion across the street. "¡Y si nos echan, pues regresamos!" ["We're here, and we won't go. And if you throw us out, we will return."]
The Feb. 21 march yielded an inside look of the front lines of the Texas immigration battles. Late last year, undocumented immigrants were buoyed by President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration, which would expand protections against deportation. But the presidential action was met forcefully with what's become the default move of then-Attorney General Greg Abbott: a suit against the federal government. Leading a multistate coalition, Texas persuaded a district judge (and Republican appointee) to issue an injunction stopping the presidential measure, and which side will ultimately prevail is now unclear, as the case heads to the appeals court.
Meanwhile, the lives of affected families hang in the balance. Virginia Segura and her husband had hoped to apply for a new program created as part of Obama's reform efforts – the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would have launched in May. DAPA would allow undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents, and who have been in the U.S. for at least five years, to apply for work permits. The executive action also would have expanded eligibility for participation in the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
Now, Segura is unsure of her family's future. "We have a 4-year-old son, and he needs to be with me and his father always," she said quietly, as her fellow protesters chanted behind her. "My son was born in this country. He has a right to be with his parents. This is an injustice."
She's not alone in feeling that way. Also among the protesters' ranks was Jim Rigby, a minister at St. Andrew's Presbyterian church, who appealed to the governor's humanity as the crowd gathered just outside of the gates of the Governor's Mansion. "This nation will rise and fall on the issue of immigration," Rigby said, to applause. "If Moses were here today, he would say 'Let my people stay.'"
Also in attendance were Karla Vargas, employment and legal services director for the Workers Defense Project, and Cristina Tzintzún, director of the Workers Defense Action Fund. Vargas and Tzintzún have been arguing that there will be serious negative ramifications to the Texas economy should anti-immigrant forces prevail in court. Even conservative business trade associations – most prominently the Texas Association of Business – after weighing the probable economic impact, have come out officially for immigration reform. Similarly, the Austin Chamber of Commerce issued a statement in support of in-state tuition and financial aid eligibility for eligible non-U.S. citizens, even as conservative lawmakers have filed bills in the Texas Legislature trying to block access.
But on the weekend of the protest, the governor appeared not to be home to witness it. A week after Valentine's Day, some of those gathered pinned a large paper heart, broken down the middle, at the mansion gates. Another protester, Dagoberto Santuario, brought fellow musicians to serenade the governor. "¿Por qué nos tratan mal? Si lo único que queremos es cooperar y producir," he sang. [Why do you treat us badly? All we want to do is cooperate and be productive.]
In halting English, Segura approached Rigby after he spoke to the crowd to express her family's anxiety. "I'm very, very sad now, and my heart is broken. It's very terrible for us."
Two days after the gathering, the Obama administration appealed the ruling blocking the president's executive actions on immigration, asking to be allowed to move forward with the programs while the appeal is being decided. Until a final decision is made, immigrant families are left to wait, wondering if they will be allowed to remain in the country they've tried to make their home.