On April 18th, the Supreme Court will hear U.S. v. Texas, an immigration case that has emerged out of continued and increasingly pernicious immigration anger enveloping American society.
The case is complex, and the ruling could affect 5 million people living in America, with direct implications here in Memphis. U.S. v. Texas reflects growing tension between the courts and the executive branch — tensions rooted in the political polarization that defines our nation at this time in history.
In November, 2014, President Obama announced a new program called DAPA — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (and Lawful Permanent Residents). This executive action would allow about 5 million people — parents of children who are United States citizens — to apply for a three-year work permit upon successful completion of background checks. The program is designed as an extension of the popular and successful 2012 executive action called DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. More than 1.2 million DACA applications have been approved, which means youngsters are obtaining work permits (working and paying taxes) and seeking post-secondary educational opportunities.
The day before DAPA was to go into effect, in February 2015, federal District Judge Andrew Hansen, from Brownsville, Texas, issued an injunction which immediately halted implementation of DAPA. Hansen, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, has been a strong critic of federal immigration policy and leans toward anti-immigration nativists in his writings and opinions. The 26 states that brought the legal action — led by Texas — essentially "shopped for" and found a sympathetic judge and venue to plead their case.
The Obama administration argues — reasonably — that it has been forced to act via executive action because Congress has refused to fix what all sides concede is a badly broken immigration system. In 2013, Obama supported a moderate, comprehensive immigration reform that was passed by the Senate but not even considered by an increasingly partisan, anti-Obama House, controlled at that time by Speaker John Boehner.
Three years earlier, the Senate defeated the "Dream Act," which would have allowed youngsters brought to the U.S. by their parents to seek citizenship upon completion of high school, on the condition they would agree to spend two years in either college or the armed forces.
We're hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the administration and against the 26 fractious states that seem motivated by politics, determined to characterize Obama as a sort of emperor-president who rules by fiat. These same states did not file any similar lawsuits against Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush when they committed to "family fairness." The Family Fairness (1987-1990) law prevented the deportation of children and spouses of folks who had been offered a pathway to citizenship under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, signed into law by President Reagan.
Assuming the court rules in favor of the administration, about 50,000 individuals will be affected in Tennessee — thousands of whom reside here in Memphis. Mayor Strickland can lead by preparing for this eventuality, supporting the residents who hope to apply for DAPA. Folks will need to prove that they've resided here permanently since 2010, which can be demonstrated through documentation —utility and cable bills, for example. The mayor and others can and should facilitate this process by setting up clinics and organizing teams of attorneys and other concerned citizens to support those who hope to apply for DAPA. Supporting DAPA makes political and economic sense: It is estimated that, over a 10-year period, DAPA could add an additional $2.65 billion to the state's GDP.
In this season of political irrationality, where fear of immigrants and a return to nativism has taken hold, we hope the Supreme Court can tune out the national noise, the anti-immigrant churn that's absorbed us at this moment. Moments, thankfully, are only temporary, but the difference DAPA provides — for millions — would endure.
Bryce Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney and board member at Latino Memphis; Michael J. LaRosa is an associate professor of history at Rhodes College.