President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation was supposed to go into effect this week, but it is on hold after a U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked the initiative. The legal battle is far from over, and while it proceeds, backers and opponents of the president’s unilateral order show no signs of wavering on their positions.
In immigrant communities, seminars to help the undocumented seek relief under the president’s executive order turned somber as expectations were dashed. The initiative is on hold. In Arizona, Idalia Cervantes had hoped her Mexican-born parents would be protected from deportation.
“We are heartbroken. We heard about this [injunction] at midnight, and it was tears,” she said.
Hours later, confirmation from the White House. “We are not going to disregard this federal court ruling. So, we are not going to be taking applications in until this case is settled,” said Obama.
A definitive resolution will take time, according to University of Massachusetts Director of Legal Studies Paul Collins.
“The law really is not black or white on this one. If it went to the Supreme Court and they ruled on the merits of this case, it probably wouldn’t come down for half a year to a year," said Collins.
Until then, there is uncertainty for undocumented aliens like Steven Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a baby, and he cannot work legally as a young adult.
“I would go out looking for a job and no one would hire me,” he said.
Congress has been unable to agree on a plan to reform an immigration system almost everyone agrees needs to change. But legislative inaction does not excuse executive over-reach, according to Republican Congressman Lamar Smith.
“The president said, ‘I am going to give them work permits. I’m going to allow them to stay, I am going to allow them to get federal benefits.’ That is where he went beyond what I think he can do,” said Smith.
While some protest, officials in states that brought the lawsuit say they are defending constitutional order.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said, “This is an important constitutional principle. This isn’t even just about immigration. It is about if the president of the U.S. can act unilaterally on any legal issue.”
The president is undeterred. “I think the law is on our side, and history is on our side. And we are going to appeal it. And we will be prepared to implement this [executive order] fully as soon as the legal issues get resolved.”
Until this week, judicial history would seem to favor Obama’s position.
“The federal courts have been fairly deferential to the federal government’s policies on immigration, particularly when those challenges are being brought by states. So the states have a tough row to hoe [difficult task ahead],” said Collins.
The immediate task for immigrant groups: convincing the undocumented to remain engaged and not retreat into the shadows.
“I will fight, and I know I have the whole community backing me up that will make sure my parents stay in this country,” said Cervantes.