Washington – Katia and Kiara Ruesta, 18-year-old twin sisters who live in Vernon and are undocumented, were on the verge of applying for provisional legal status before the ruling of a Texas judge put their hopes on hold.
“I was kind of shocked; it was a huge surprise,” said Katia Ruesta, a student at Manchester Community College.
Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, issued an injunction late Monday that would halt programs the president announced in November offering protections from deportation and granting work permits for as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including the Ruesta twins.
Hanen said he ordered the injunction to give a lawsuit filed by 26 Republican governors against President Obama’s immigration policy changes time to move forward. The governors say Obama overstepped his authority in altering immigration policy.
The Ruestas, who came to the United States from Peru with their parents when they were both 13 years old, hoped to benefit from a policy change that would take effect Wednesday, a day before their appointment with an immigration lawyer to begin their applications for provisional legal status. That appointment has now been postponed.
The Ruestas pinned their hopes on Obama’s expansion of a program he initiated in 2012 that gives temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
But the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, program allowed only those who entered the United States before 2007 to apply. Obama moved that date to Jan. 1, 2010, so the Ruesta’s who arrived in the United States in December of 2009, were suddenly eligible for DACA, as are another 270,000 undocumented immigrants nationwide.
Katia Ruesta hopes the Obama administration, which said it would appeal Hanen’s injunction, will eventually prevail.
“I am pretty confident that it’s just a matter of time for us to be able to file,” she said.
A drawn-out legal battle
Douglas Penn, an immigration attorney in Stamford, said it’s too early to tell how the clash between the Obama administration, and immigrant advocates who back him, and those who oppose the immigration policy changes will play out.
“This is the opening salvo in a long, drawn-out court battle,” he said.
Penn said he represents one client who hoped to benefit from the expansion of DACA and who now must wait. Many more of his clients would benefit from another Obama immigration policy change that would allow the parents of children who are citizens or legal residents to apply for legal status.
That program was to take effect on May 19.
“This throws a lot of tumult in their expectations,” Penn said of his clients.
But, he said, “my position with them right now is, ‘keep collecting your documents’.”
Penn said he is heartened that Hanen’s injunction was based on something “very narrow,” which is whether the president followed the proper procedures in changing immigration policy. The court has yet to decide the larger question – whether Obama has the authority to do what he did.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., however, said Hanen’s action “betrays a strong potential bias against the president’s action.”
“This federal trial court order blocking the president’s immigration directives is deeply and destructively wrong, and should be reversed immediately,” Blumenthal said.
Lucas Codognolla helped found Connecticut Students for a Dream, an organization founded by undocumented youth to push Congress to approve the DREAM Act, which would give them legal status.
He said the Brownsville court injunction is “a bump in the road.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit might quickly intervene to lift Hanen’s injunction on the argument the federal government has authority over immigration issue, not the states.
Born in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Codognolla and his family came to the United States in 2000 when he was 9 years old. He benefited from Obama’s 2012 decision to use his executive power to halt the deportation of undocumented youths and now works in Penn’s law office.
But he has friends who had hoped to benefit from DACA’s expansion.
“Hopefully, this is over in a few weeks,” he said.
Unlike the GOP governors who sued the administration, Gov. Dannel Malloy and many of the nation’s other Democratic governors support Obama’s immigration policy.
“We are a leader in passing a statewide version of the DREAM Act, and believe the president’s executive order will accomplish what Washington has been unable to do – bring more people out of the shadows and into our economy and society,” said Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia. “We should celebrate – not punish – productive members of our economy and their children.”
House Republicans have included riders to a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that would bar Obama’s policy changes. That has stalled approval of the spending bill, putting the DHS in danger of running out of money on Feb. 27.
Puglia said, “Whether opposing pragmatic policies in court or holding up basic DHS funding to further a backward agenda, Republicans across the country continue to impede progress as they oppose a comprehensive solution, forcing millions to continue to live in the shadows.”
Meanwhile Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a GOP House leader, said the court ruling confirmed that Obama had “overreached.”
“The court confirmed what House Republicans have been saying all along: President Obama does not have the legal authority to grant executive amnesty to people here illegally,” Scalise said. “This ruling also sends a strong message to Senate Democrats: Get back to Washington and stop blocking funding of the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to defend the president’s unlawful action.”