While a divided and short-handed Supreme Court debated the legality of President Barack Obama’s immigrant-protection program Monday, at least a dozen Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents were among the hundreds outside rallying for the president’s effort.
One of them, an 18-year-old Vance High School senior named Salma, says a legal go-ahead from the high court for Obama’s so-called DAPA program could end decades of anxiety for her family back in Charlotte.
Salma, who did not want her last name used out of concerns for the safety of her parents, says she’s a U.S. citizen who plans to attend UNC Charlotte next year. Her parents, who have lived and worked in Charlotte for 20 years, remain undocumented immigrants. Under DAPA, short for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, her father, a construction contractor, and her stay-at-home mom could be spared from deportation and issued temporary work permits.
“It would give my family hope. It would take away a little of the fear we live under every single day,” said Salma, who did not want her last name used out of concern for her family’s safety.
Salma’s story was a common one outside the Supreme Court’s building, where the chant, “Si se puede,” which translates roughly to “Yes, we can,” rolled through the crowd.
Sayra Hernandez, a 16-year-old from Mexico who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., stood outside the courthouse with her sister and mother. The family has a deportation date scheduled for April 29.
Kerry Gutierrez, a 17-year-old from Boulder, Colo., with an undocumented mother, said she came from across the country because she’s tired of being afraid “that when I go home my (undocumented) mom isn’t going to be there.
“I don’t want to be the head of the household; I’m too young for that.”
Nationally, up to 5 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States could qualify for benefits.
First the Supreme Court must decide whether Obama acted legally in 2014 when he bypassed Congress and put the immigration changes in place. North Carolina is one of 26 states – with Texas taking the lead – that took the president to court. They argue that Obama shirked his authority to enforce the country’s existing immigration laws while usurping the role of Congress. Two lower-court decisions have so far blocked the Obama administration from putting DAPA in place.
The court’s decision would have significant consequences for North Carolina. Jose Hernandez-Paris, head of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, says as many as 250,000 North Carolina residents could be helped by the president’s plan.
It would give my family hope. It would take away a little of the fear we live under every single day.
Salma, a Vance High School senior
For now, North Carolina’s laws “have created a second- and third-class citizenship for individuals that have been contributing to the economy and society for many years,” said Hernandez-Paris, who traveled to the nation’s capitol with about 15 high school and college students from Charlotte, Davidson and Chapel Hill.
When North Carolina joined the DAPA opponents two years ago, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory criticized Obama’s “unilateral expansion of power” and said DAPA would create added expenses for the state.
Using even stronger language Monday, William Gheen, head of the Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said the court’s decision will determine “whether we continue this country as a functioning republic or as a totalitarian dictatorship.”
The president’s immigration order, he said, “makes a sham” out of the country’s existing immigration policies and the separation of powers spelled out in the Constitution. “The American people don’t want this,” he said.
(The court’s decision will determine) whether we continue this country as a functioning republic or as a totalitarian dictatorship.
William Gheen, head of the Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC
Contrary to Gheen and other program critics, Charlotte immigration attorney Cynthia Aziz said Monday that DAPA is not a blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants. Instead, she said, it attempts to instill a process with background checks and other requirements that would benefit employers and qualified workers “who have been here for a while.”
“This is a humanitarian act until Congress and the White House can talk to each other,” she said. “This is not a free-for-all. This is not going to give everybody a fix.”
Salma said the ultimate goal for young activists like herself is comprehensive immigration reform. DAPA doesn’t come close to that. But she said she and her friends stood outside the Supreme Court Monday morning because millions of young people live under a common fear that their families can be broken up at any time.
“This is a step,” she said. “DAPA is something worth fighting for.”