Why Executive Action Isn’t About Immigrants, It’s About All of Us
On April 17, a court of appeals heard oral arguments about whether to stay a federal judge’s temporary injunction halting President Obama’s immigration Executive Action, which is set to grant temporary protection from deportation to an estimated 5 million immigrants.
While we wait for the court’s decision, I wanted to share one legal argument that highlights the disconnect between those who subscribe to, or have an interest in perpetuating, the myth of the job-stealing, criminal immigrant and the experience of tens of millions of Americans who interact with immigrants every day and see the value they bring to their communities.
Earlier this month mayors and other officials from 73 cities in 27 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief arguing that the injunction is invalid because delaying the implementation of Executive Action is “strongly contrary to the public interest” – something a judge is legally obligated to take into account when considering an injunction. (In an earlier blog describing NYLAG’s continuing work to support immigrants during this waiting period, my colleague Irina Matiychenko, Director of NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit, referred to it and praised Mayor de Blasio for leading the effort.)
The mayors’ amicus brief makes a strong case that Executive Action will make us a safer and more prosperous nation that values and protects the rights of families. It insists that the injunction should be reversed because the court failed to consider the negative impact it is having on the 43 million people residing in the communities represented by the signatories. Here is an excerpt from the brief that goes to the heart of the matter:
“Local officials witness every day the contributions that immigrants make to their neighborhoods and communities, as well as the harms that result from keeping long-time residents of those neighborhoods and communities in the shadows due to their immigration status… So, the mayors, county officials, cities, counties, villages, and boroughs represented in this brief have a distinctive, on-the-ground perspective and understanding of how [Executive Action] will affect eligible individuals, their families, and, indeed, all residents within [our] jurisdictions.”
The argument challenges the court for looking narrowly at how Executive Action could harm the interests of just one plaintiff state, Texas, because of the presumed high cost of processing immigrant’s drivers’ licenses – and in so doing, failing to consider the impact that an injunction would have on public interests of the rest of the nation.
The harm done by delaying the implementation of Executive Action is spelled out in chilling detail. First, there is the matter of public safety. The brief cites a survey of Latino immigrants who said they are less likely to contact police officers if they have been the victim of a crime because they fear that police officers will use this interaction as an opportunity to inquire into their immigration status or that of people they know. This is not surprising given the unprecedented 2009 congressional directive that mandates an immigrant detention quota, which has driven increasingly aggressive law enforcement against immigrants. Immigrants are understandably afraid to report crimes.
We see this fear every day among our clients. Even victims of domestic violence who are at risk of imminent physical harm are so afraid of deportation that they do not report the abuse. The President’s plan will help to restore trust that quota-driven enforcement and record deportations has eroded. Immigrants who are granted temporary relief from deportation will be far more likely to cooperate with law enforcement.
Second, the injunction stands in the way of the significant economic benefits Executive Action will bring by granting more undocumented immigrants authorization to work. The brief references several cities, including New York, that have enjoyed an economic boost thanks to growth in immigrant populations – and have created and funded local programs, such as job training, to support immigrants and enhance their ability to contribute to their communities. Our own Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is a notable example.
One 2012 report cited in the brief, by the Partnership for a New American Economy, estimated that immigrants “started nearly 30 percent of all new businesses in the country in 2011, and that immigrant-owned businesses employ one out of ten workers in the United States, generating more than $775 billion in revenue, $125 billion in payroll, and $100,000 billion in income in 2010 alone.”
Executive action is expected to increase labor income among immigrants, resulting in billions of dollars of new tax revenue that will help local economies grow. We know from studies of an earlier executive action program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, established in 2012) that “within two years almost 60 percent of beneficiaries obtained a new job, and 45 percent increased their salaries.”
Finally, the federal injunction has put on hold the promise of keeping immigrant families together. This is despite the fact that family unity is guaranteed under immigration laws, and is recognized by the Constitution, which “protects the sanctity of the family precisely because it is deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition.”
Communities and immigrants are hurt when families are torn apart through deportation. It creates a drain on local governments, including reduced household income, increased reliance on public benefits, and poor health leading to greater burdens on the health care system.
The toll on children who grow up with one parent is profound. They are more likely to remain in the cycle of poverty, enter the foster care system at a vastly higher rate, experience housing instability, food insufficiency, disrupted educations, and suffer from trouble eating and sleeping, depression, and anxiety. Studies show that “children’s health is impaired even by the threat that a close family member will be detained or deported.”
If you have the time, I highly recommend reading the amicus brief in its entirety. It makes an eloquent and convincing case that the battle over Executive Action is not about immigrants – it’s about all of us.