A federal court order stalling aspects of President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration Monday is just a temporary setback on the road to reform, immigration activists, attorneys and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at a town hall meeting on the city’s efforts to integrate its immigrant communities.
“Administrative relief from the president is coming, and when (it) does come, Atlanta is going to be ready,” said David Lubell, executive director of Welcoming America, said at a gathering that drew more than 100 people at the Latin American Association.
Judge Andrew Hanen on Monday issued a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, barring the federal government from enacting its new plan for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, which would have provided work permits and stays of deportation for eligible parents of U.S. citizens.
That measure was set to take effect later this spring, but the injunction also had a more immediate impact.
In November, the Department of Homeland Security moved to expand Mr. Obama’s 2012 order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which enables undocumented immigrants under 31 who arrived before the age of 16 and have lived in the country continuously for five years to apply for renewable two-year work permits. DACA’s expansion, set to begin Feb. 18, would remove the under-31 requirement and increase the validity of the work permits to three years.
In reluctant compliance with Monday’s court order, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would not begin accepting DAPA or expanded DACA applications as expected.
Despite strident assertions, especially by Republican lawmakers, that the president has overstepped his constitutional authority through his executive action on immigration, leaders at the Atlanta event were confident that the law is firmly on the president’s side. They encouraged local immigrants not to fear but to expect reversal of the injunction by August, even though the administration has yet to file an appeal.
“I want all of you to know that in my judgment, the injunction against President Obama’s administrative relief order will be temporary if the court follows the law,” Mayor Reed told the audience, his remarks translated through headsets into Vietnamese, Spanish, Bengali, Korean, French and Haitian Creole.
Charles Kuck, a prominent Atlanta immigration attorney, said those bringing the suit — attorneys general from 26 states including Texas and Georgia — filed it in the Brownsville court due to Mr. Hanen’s strong “anti-immigrant” leanings. Mr. Hanen based the injunction on the idea that the president failed to submit his order for public comment for a period of time prescribed in a 1946 law, Mr. Kuck said. The decision, he added, won’t stand up to more intense scrutiny.
“For that reason, both the White House and all the advocacy groups that we have talked to have said repeatedly since Monday night, ‘Don’t be scared; DAPA is temporarily stopped, but it will come back. The administration will appeal,’” he said.
Mr. Kuck also emphasized to the crowd that the injunction didn’t change the initial version of DACA issued in 2012 or block new deportation priorities issued in November.
“People in Georgia who were afraid to drive taking their kids to school because they might get stopped and deported — those days are over,” he said.
Mexican Consul General Ricardo Camara Sanchez urged the Mexican community to apply for consulate-issued identification documents known as matricula consular. Similarly, he said other immigrant communities should begin gathering documentation they can use to prove residency if and when DAPA and expanded DACA procedures open back up as expected.
He said the Mexican consulate processes 500 applications per day and is beefing up its mobile operations and adding a weekend and night shift to handle even more. The ID cards have no U.S. legal status, but they can be used to open bank accounts and apply for loans in lieu of state-issued IDs or national passports.
Though they urged readiness, Mr. Camara and Mr. Kuck were adamant that no one should pay immigration consultants known as “notarios” or unscrupulous attorneys to file DAPA applications while federal acceptance is on hold.
Mr. Reed said the City of Atlanta is considering legislation to officially register notarios and to punish those who prey on immigrants.
“We will not stand by while folks are taken advantage of,” the mayor said.
That’s just one aspect of the Welcoming Atlanta plan formed over the past year by a working group led by Mr. Kuck and Latin American Association Executive Director Jeffrey Tapia.
Atlanta is one of 50-plus cities committed to taking concrete steps as part of the Welcoming America initiative, which calls for proactive planning to engage their foreign-born populations.
Atlanta is one of the leading “new gateway” cities, especially in the South, said Mr. Lubell, who founded Welcoming America in Nashville after coming up with a plan to help Tennessee welcome its refugee communities.
Not only is Atlanta planning to create opportunities for dialogue between its U.S.- and foreign-born populations, but it is also piloting a new “welcoming” certification process for businesses and government departments.
Mr. Reed said “inclusiveness is in Atlanta’s DNA” and that the city would be on the “right side of history” in its efforts to welcome its immigrant community, which ultimately will make the city stronger.
“President Obama’s immigration policies not only strengthen our city’s economy, but contribute to our cultural fabric and global competitiveness,” he said.
Mr. Kuck, who praised Mr. Reed’s “monumental” leadership in the Welcoming Atlanta initiative, echoed the mayor.
“Atlanta is the city that cradled the civil rights movement. It’s also the city that caused it to come to fruition, and we will be the city that makes immigration reform happen,” he said to applause from the audience.
Comprehensive reform is the only way to fix this “broken system,” Mr. Kuck said. After all, Mr. Obama’s executive orders affect only about 4 million of the 12 million-or-so people in the country illegally.
Prospects for reform dim in Congress at the moment. House Republicans are threatening to let funding for Department of Homeland Security lapse if Democrats in the Senate continue to block a spending bill that would also strip funding from Mr. Obama’s immigration orders. The department’s funding is set to expire Feb. 27.