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In Wake of Supreme Court Disappointment, Immigrant Rights Advocates Vow to Turn Out the Vote

As undocumented immigrants’ futures remain uncertain, advocates are organizing to hold officials accountable in the streets, in voting booths and in the courts.

Protesters demonstrate over the Supreme Court's ruling on President Obama's immigration policy at Foley Square in New York City, on June 24, 2016. The court's four-to-four tie left in place an appeals court ruling blocking Obama’s immigration plan, which would have shielded as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to legally work in the United States.

Part of the Series

After the Supreme Court deadlocked in a four-to-four vote Thursday, June 23, a lower court’s decision will remain in place that blocks President Obama’s November 2014 executive actions, which would have shielded nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and provided many with authorization to live and work in the U.S.

The court’s tie vote effectively denied the president’s actions to expand eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which would have granted eligible young people who came to the U.S. as children temporary protection from deportation as well as authorization to live and work in the U.S. The ruling also denied millions of eligible parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents the same protections under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.

In April, the high court heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Texas, a case challenging an injunction lower courts placed on President Obama’s executive actions last February after a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas, halted the expansion of the DACA program and the launch of DAPA, ruling that Texas and 25 other Republican-dominated states have a basis to challenge them.

Immigrants rights organizations lamented the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday, expressing condolences to the millions of families that will not be protected from deportation or allowed to legally work in the U.S., while calling for a moratorium on all new deportations. Some groups also vowed to counteract the decision by turning Latinos out to vote in November.

“While we are grieving, our drive to win immigration reform remains intact,” said incoming executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, Michelle Tremillo, in a press release. “In the coming months, we will knock on doors and call on our friends and neighbors to vote for candidates who will help us win local policy changes that will improve the lives and safety of immigrants, and comprehensive immigration reform in D.C.”

Angelica Villalobos came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1996 when she was 11 years old, and received a DACA permit in January 2013 as part of the first wave of applicants for protection under the original version of the program initiated in 2012. Although her own DACA status will not be affected by the recent decision, the 2012 program may now be at risk of future court challenges.

“I am very disappointed in the [justices] who voted against [Obama’s executive actions] because the key questions they even asked had a very straightforward answer,” Villalobos told Truthout, referring to whether or not Obama’s executive actions were legal. “[Texas] acknowledged that it was a lawful order.”

Privacy Fight Ensues

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday, Villalobos was one of four DACA recipients who filed a writ this month with the help of the National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Texas in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The writ pressured the Brownsville court to delay an order by federal Judge Andrew Hanen to release the addresses and personal information of nearly 108,000 young, undocumented immigrants who received three-year protections and work permits in the period between November 2014 and February 2015 to state authorities involved in the suit.

Judge Hanen permitted a stay of his order, delaying the deadline of the court’s request for the release of the immigrants’ information until August 22, 2016. Since the lower court’s ruling was provisional, the case now moves back down to Brownsville with the Supreme Court’s recent decision, and Judge Hanen’s order will move forward. The order was supposedly intended to be a “rebuke” to Justice Department attorneys for what the judge determined to be deceptive conduct in the court proceedings. However, the actual consequences of this politically motivated maneuver will likely fall less on the attorneys and much more on the undocumented youths themselves, who immigrants rights advocates say could face retaliation — particularly in states originally opposed to President Obama’s executive actions.

Villalobos told Truthout she feared she or her family members, including her four daughters, would be investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or local police if her information was released to state authorities in Oklahoma.

“I am tired of people like Judge Hanen, who are just attacking us continuously,” Villalobos told Truthout about why she decided to move forward with the legal writ earlier this month. “He’s actually going out of his way to try to bring us into the middle of everything that he is doing with DAPA and the extended DACA.”

Villalobos organizes with DREAM Act Oklahoma, mostly helping host Know Your Rights forums for undocumented people in her area in Oklahoma, and is part of the United We Dream network.

“We are very proud to know that it was the undocumented community that was able to step in and say, ‘Judge Hanen, back off,'” Sheridan Aguirre, who is communications coordinator at United We Dream, told Truthout about the order’s delayed deadline. “The privacy of undocumented youth is at risk and could open doors for further collection of private information of immigrants in general, and by extension, people of color.”

Greisa Martinez, United We Dream’s advocacy director, charged that Judge Hanen has a history of anti-immigrant sentiments.

“There is more than enough evidence to be able to point to the fact that this judge has obviously become one who is not grounded in what is his judicial commitment to remain unbiased,” Martinez told Truthout. “It’s difficult to separate him and his interests from that of the Republicans.”

While it remains unclear just what state authorities would do with DACA recipients’ information, the order to release the information of hundreds of thousands of youths could set a new and frightening precedent, particularly with the potential presidency of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump looming on the horizon. Trump has promised to end DACA, deport all undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. and build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

Immigrants Rights Advocates Eye November

Given the precariousness of President Obama’s deferred action efforts and the severity of Trump’s threats, immigrants rights activists are organizing to register their communities to vote, hoping to defend the current protections and keep from losing any more ground under the next president, no matter who wins.

Advocates laid plans for an electoral strategy during the United We Dream Congress in Houston, Texas, this month, and are planning another convergence in the first week of July. Activists’ plans are wide-ranging: They hope to grow their movement and hold officials accountable in the streets, in voting booths and in the courts.

Electorally, however, United We Dream and a number of immigrants rights organizations across the country are organizing voter registration drives in “purple” states like Florida, California and New Mexico, which could become key in deciding President Obama’s successor. United We Dream also plans to launch a get-out-the-vote campaign in October that will ask U.S. citizens to vote on behalf of those who can’t vote — people “who do not have access to [U.S.] democracy” — to keep families together. In addition to digital and social media outreach, United We Dream hopes to incorporate direct action and civil disobedience into the organization’s electoral strategy this fall to attract millennial Latinos, who will make up nearly half of all eligible Latino voters in 2016.

Immigrants rights groups have declared their push for Latino voter turnout in November to be a “Plan B” now that Obama’s executive actions have been blocked. The groups argue that Latinos remain central not only in deciding who will occupy the White House but who will get a seat in Congress.

The Latino electorate is estimated to comprise about 23 million people, a sizable enough constituency to advance immigration reform in Congress. Yet advocates say just 12.5 million are registered to vote, with another 8 million permanent documented residents meeting the requirements last September to be able vote on the first Tuesday in November.

Villalobos told Truthout that she was scared of the prospect of a potential Trump presidency at first but that her anxiety has decreased as the presidential race has continued to play out on the national stage. “[Trump] hasn’t really given us concrete answers on what he’s really going to do. It’s really just talk,” she said. “The way I see it is, … he can’t change all the laws in four years.”

She’s more worried about the violence against immigrants that a Trump presidency could incite, pointing to outbreaks of violence at his campaign rallies and the accompanying anti-immigrant fervor of his supporters. “With Trump as president, I don’t think there will be a big difference between the way the United States will run and what other countries in Latin America are dealing with, in terms of the violence,” Villalobos said.

Immigrants rights organizers emphasize that no matter who occupies the White House in 2017, the immigrant community will work hold them accountable and to protect undocumented people targeted by ICE and local police from deportation and family separation. Their diligence in holding the next president to account will be important not only under a potential Republican president but also under Democratic front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she takes the White House in November.

Although, during a March Democratic primary debate sponsored by Univision, Clinton promised moderators that she would not deport undocumented children seeking asylum in the U.S., she previously supported deporting undocumented children. Clinton said in January that she “would give every person, but particularly children, due process and have their story told.” Two years prior, she ardently defended deporting asylum-seeking children coming to the U.S. from Central America, saying the U.S. needed to “send a clear message” to Central Americans considering making the journey.

Martinez emphasized that activists are not pledging allegiance to either party; they are defending their constituents.

“All of [the victories we have won] have depended on us being able to keep both parties and both politicians accountable, and being able to pressure politicians no matter who’s in office,” Martinez said. “Obviously, we will be ensuring that Latinos and immigrant voters are aware of what’s at stake, … but we do not owe ourselves to Democrats. We do not owe ourselves to Republicans. We owe ourselves to our families.”

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