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Immigrants in Charlotte illegally likely to stay put, no matter court decision

Protestor Bacilio Castro, center, participates in a mock arrest of immigrants at Trade and Tryon Streets in Charlotte earlier this year. Local activists acted out the dramatization of an immigration raid, in order to educate the community on the realities of families who face immigration raids.
Protestor Bacilio Castro, center, participates in a mock arrest of immigrants at Trade and Tryon Streets in Charlotte earlier this year. Local activists acted out the dramatization of an immigration raid, in order to educate the community on the realities of families who face immigration raids. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny the Obama administration a clear victory on its immigration policies is tough news for the thousands of immigrants living, working and going to school without legal permission in the Charlotte region.

But for backers of stricter enforcement of immigration laws, the news was a reason to celebrate.

The one thing both sides seem to agree on is that immigrants in the nation illegally aren’t likely to return willingly to their home countries, no matter what lower courts decide.

“A lot of the folks who are undocumented have been here for 20-plus years, and have children who were born here,” said Charlotte attorney Tin Nguyen, the son of immigrants and an attorney who represents in courts immigrants who are here without permission.

“I think they will continue to live their lives in the shadows. Nobody is going to get up and go back home, especially with Mexico and Central American countries being so unstable and unsafe.”

Nguyen says up to 40 percent of his clients would have benefited from the Obama administration’s executive orders. He says their big hope now is that voters will elect more sympathetic leaders.

The Supreme Court’s 4-4 deadlock on the issue means President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will remain blocked from going into effect, and the issue will return to a lower court.

Critics of the programs hope the court’s decision is the beginning of the end for tolerating the millions of people who have crossed the U.S. border illegally and built lives in the nation.

William Gheen of North Carolina-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC says he’d like to see the federal government take the next step and begin arresting those who sought protection through DAPA and the expansion of the DACA program.

“All the federal employees who swore an oath to the U.S. Constitution … should immediately remove all DACA benefits and begin enforcing the laws,” he said. “We have their most current addresses, and current laws say they are to be removed, and that’s what we want to see happen.

“We want them removed to prevent future politicians from trying to abuse their power the way Obama has.”

Ron Woodard of the immigration reform group NC Listen says mass deportations are not a realistic solution, but he says the next best thing is to go after U.S. employers who hire people not legally in the country. North Carolina leaders have not done a good job of that, he says, and need to be pressed on the matter.

“We don’t want to pretend that border security doesn’t matter, but imagine if they come here and can’t get a job or a driver’s license,” said Woodard. “We need to take away the job magnet if we want to get our arms around illegal immigration.”

It’s unclear exactly how many immigrants live in the Charlotte area unlawfully, but advocates on both sides of the issue believe it’s in the thousands.

The city’s non-white Hispanic population grew 14.8 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics are now 12.7 percent of the county’s population, an estimated 128,473 people among 1 million residents.

Héctor Vaca of the immigrant advocacy group Action NC says the court’s deadlock can’t be claimed as a victory for either side. But he warns that critics of DAPA could be surprised by a backlash at the polls from Latinos and minorities, one that could elect more immigrant-friendly leaders.

“It’s going to take more than this to get the undocumented to leave North Carolina,” said Vaca. “If anything, this decision might make Latinos angry.”

Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition, an immigrant advocacy group, issued a statement saying the court decision will keep 5 million immigrants in the U.S. living in constant fear of being separated from their families through deportation.

“I am deeply upset that this decision will continue to create second-class citizens in the U.S. and will perpetuate discrimination, wage theft, fraud and fear in our communities,” said Jose Hernandez-Paris, the coalition’s executive director.

Coalition officials noted the original 2012 DACA is not affected by the Thursday court announcement. That program allows immigrants who entered the country improperly before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. It confers non-immigrant legal status but does not provide a path to citizenship.

The president had proposed expanding DACA to include immigrants who entered the country without legal permission before 2010 and would have ended the requirement that applicants be younger than age 31.

Had Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) gone into effect, it would have granted deferred action status for immigrants who have lived in the United States illegally since 2010 and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Deferred action is not full legal status but would come with a three-year, renewable work permit and exemption from deportation. It would not have been a path to citizenship.

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