White House Puts Immigration Plans on Hold After Ruling

February 17, 2015


The Department of Homeland Security will delay Wednesday's scheduled start of the first of President Obama's executive orders shielding millions of immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation, a move that left some New Jersey immigrants with mixed feelings about the future of the programs.

“It would be such a great disappointment because so many people are waiting for this and their dreams have been locked, and that’s very hard,” said Rosa Vallecillo, of Union City, whose husband plans to apply for one of the programs. “This would be super sad…we will continue to pray that they don’t take it away.”

President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015.
A woman holds a sign that says in Spanish, "you, me, we are America!" during a rally in support of President Barack Obama’s plan to protect more than 4 million people living illegally in the U.S. from deportation in front of a church Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in San Diego.

The decision Tuesday by the federal government to hold off implementing the first phase of immigration policies was in response to a ruling on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas that said the President exceeded his authority. The ruling — was a result of a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states who oppose Obama’s immigration orders.

As a result, thousands of North Jersey residents who could qualify under the order will remain in limbo.

The Migration Policy Institute, in data released last month, estimated that out of the 528,000 unauthorized immigrants living in the Garden State, about 204,000 could be potentially eligible for the deferred action programs. Of those eligible for the deportation waivers, an estimated 24,000 live in Bergen County, and about 18,000 in Passaic County, according to the institute.

The Justice Department is planning an appeal, officials said.

House Speaker John Boehner said Monday's ruling wasn't a surprise and underscores that Obama acted beyond his authority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed the sentiments, adding that the president has repeatedly acknowledged "he doesn't have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as 'ignoring the law' and 'unwise and unfair.'"

Both called on Senate Democrats to relent in their opposition to a Homeland Security Department spending bill that overturns Obama's action. The department's funding expires Feb. 27 and Congress has only a few legislative days to act.

However, during a telephone press conference Tuesday, White House officials maintained that the president was well within his authority when he issued the executive orders and that they expect to prevail legally and will be ready to implement the policy changes when that moment comes.

“We continue to be confident that the president’s executive actions are not just legal, but they are actually clearly the right thing to do for the country,” said Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, who listed several of the economic benefits expected from the executive actions, including strengthening Social Security.

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that it hasn’t been determined whether the administration will also seek an emergency reversal of the injunction.

“The DOJ has already determined that it would appeal, it’s going to determine within the next couple of days any additional steps that they might take that could include a stay, but they haven’t made that determination, they will do it shortly,” Munoz said.

Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, said he strongly disagreed with the court decision, but that the government will comply with it and not accept applications for the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was scheduled to start Wednesday. He stressed that the existing DACA program, which launched in 2012, would still be in effect.

Furthermore he said, they will also suspend plans for requests for the deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizen and permanent resident children. That program is known as Deferred Action for Parent of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents or DAPA.

Opponents of the immigration policy hailed the judge’s decision saying it could help Republicans in Congress in their efforts to block funding for the programs.

“I’m thrilled and I’m happy and it gives hope to the many unemployed and working poor families of New Jersey who are struggling with some sort of assurance that the judicial system has come down in their best interest by not allowing illegal immigrants to take jobs and employment opportunities away from citizens and legal residents of New Jersey,” said Gayle Kesselman, co-chair of New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control.

The federal court decision was criticized by immigrant advocates and supporters who also called it a temporary setback and urged immigrants who planned to apply for the deferred action to continue to gather the paperwork needed to support their applications.

President Obama’s executive orders could allow as many as 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally to get three-year work permits and waivers from deportation if they passed a background check.

“We have fought too hard to ensure that millions of aspiring Americans could come forward and apply for the opportunity to contribute more fully to their communities,” said Father Joe Kerrigan, Head Pastor at Holy Family Parish and Board Member of Faith in New Jersey, a statewide organization that lobbies for policy changes that will help immigrants. “We will continue to fight in our local communities, in Washington, and in the courtroom until the immigration initiatives President Obama announced last year become reality.”

Margaret White, of Community Friends in Action, a Leonia-based organization that aids immigrant day laborers, said she too was disappointed with the decision but that the non-profit still planned to hold an event Monday in Palisades Park explaining the executive orders to immigrants who may be eligible.

“I feel terrible for the immigrants because they were doubtful from the beginning, but we will go forward with the program that we have,” she said. “There has been so much invested in it and maybe they will win the appeal.”

Blanca Izelo, of Passaic — and the mother of four U.S. citizen children — is among the immigrants that had expressed doubt that the program would ever be implemented when it was announced last year. She said Tuesday that she has yet to talk to anyone about whether she would be eligible.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” she said of the latest court ruling.

Patricia Vielman, who would be eligible for the DAPA program because she has a U.S. citizen child, said she wasn't discouraged.

“We know that he will face many battles, its not the first, and there will be many,’’ she said.

Vielman, who was born in Guatemala and lives in Palisades Park, said that immigrants without proper documentation help the country in many ways and for that reason she still has hope that the deferred action would become reality. She currently works at a nail salon, but has a certificate as a medical office assistant and a work permit would allow her to secure a better job in that field.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Paterson Democrat, said that he was pleased to learn that the Department of Justice would appeal the decision.

“The President’s proposal would bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows while enhancing border security measures to ensure the enforcement of our immigration laws,” he said.

Sen. Bob Menendez, one of eight senators who sponsored a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate, said that there is no question that the president has ample legal precedent and constitutional authority to implement the executive actions, which he called good public policy.

“We will continue to educate and mobilize those in New Jersey and across the country eager to come out of the shadows, register with the government, pass background checks, and be given an opportunity to be fully integrated into the only country they call home,” said Menendez, D-Paramus.

This article contains material from The Associated Press. Email: