A little more than a year after President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions aimed at shielding around 5 million immigrants from deportation, the administration found itself scrambling to save them.
Last week, the Obama administration appealed to the Supreme Court a decision by two lower courts. Those lower courts have so far blocked the administration from enacting and expanding several programs that would have protected some immigrants from deportation and granted many temporary work permits.
At a rally marking the anniversary of the executive actions, the mood was cautiously optimistic. That has become the reality for many supporters of a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the country unlawfully.
Advocates have felt threatened by a number of challenges to immigration reform, including Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s platform, which includes a suggestion for a wall between the US and Mexico and the mass deportation of 11 million immigrants living in the US without permission.
“The climate right now is what it is,” New York City councilman Carlos Menchaca (D), who led the rally in New York, told Business Insider. “But we’re going to fight this with positive productive vision rooted in the founding of this country.”
Advocates for reform have felt stymied by a wave of anti-immigration reform actions in recent months.
In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, a number of Republican presidential candidates and more than 30 governors have called on the Obama administration to halt the admission of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the Middle East.
That anti-refugee sentiment culminated in a stunning turn of events for Obama, as a group of 46 House Democrats joined Republicans to pass a bill that, in effect, will stifle the flow of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the US.
In the face of inaction in Congress and a rising wave of anti-reform attitudes on the campaign trail, immigration reform advocates believe the focus should turn to what more Obama can do on an executive basis.
But not everyone thinks he’s fulfilled the promises he’s already made to the immigrant community.
In a new report released earlier this week, the American Immigration Lawyers Association laid out a host of recommendations for what the Obama administration could do without congressional approval. The report noted that the administration hadn’t taken many serious moves to address concerns about refugee protection and enforcement reform.
“Sweeping plans he announced one year ago have only been partially implemented, and overall, his record on immigration during seven years in office is mixed,” the report said.
As part of Obama’s executive actions, the president announced goals for reforming the legal-immigration system. Officials with some knowledge of the administration’s thinking have told Business Insider that it appears poised to roll out proposed regulations allowing for greater portability before the end of the year. But so far, the administration has been tight-lipped about specific aspects of the proposed regulations.
“The president has proposed more changes to improve the legal immigration system than any other. While these plans would greatly benefit American families, businesses, and the US economy, most have not been introduced at all or are just beginning to be rolled-out,” the AILA report said.
Immigration-reform advocates have also become increasingly alarmed by immigration-enforcement action at the state and local level.
Many Republican lawmakers have attempted to curb “sanctuary cities” policies. The term refers to the localities that do not comply with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement orders to detain immigrants living in the US illegally beyond their release date, if they’re picked up for a low-level crime.
Many law-enforcement officials believe that such policies help police build trust with communities. But high-profile crimes allegedly committed by immigrants living in the US without permission have spurred a push by Republicans in Congress that has made its way to the state and local levels.
For some advocates, this represents a major shift in tactics.
“For the the longest time we saw a lot of anti-immigrant measures happen at the federal level, or complete inaction at the federal level, and then we saw the states going in the opposite direction, and seeking policies that recognised the value of immigrants to the economy, to the community,” Melissa Keaney, an attorney at the pro-immigration reform National Immigration Law Center told Business Insider earlier this month.
“Now things have turned on their head. … It’s a disturbing trend.”
At Friday’s rally, many advocates pointed to the 2016 election, citing widely touted concerns from the Republican Party that anti-immigration reform efforts could hurt them at the ballot box.
“The rhetoric of hate and fear and racist remarks are galvanizing a community across the country,” Menchaca said. “The Republicans that are pushing this will soon realise how divisive this is.”
Already, at least one campaign is already hoping to capitalise on the backlash within the Latino community to the heated rhetoric around immigration that has dominated the Republican Party’s campaign conversation this year.
At Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s headquarters on the 11th floor of a Brooklyn high rise last Monday, a small group of Latina supporters worked the phones. They targeted and invited Latina voters in Colorado, a key swing state with a rising Latino population, to an event in the Rocky Mountain state at which Clinton was slated to speak on Tuesday.
Lorella Praeli, the Clinton campaign’s director of Hispanic outreach, told Business Insider that many voters and activists that the campaign spoke with in Colorado and Nevada reported being concerned with Trump’s controversial statements.
“That comes up a lot,” Praeli said. “People are saying it is our responsibility to make sure that we secure the nomination and that we elect her.”
“You can tell that [Latinas] are following the news, and you can tell that they’re angry, and they don’t stand by the comments that others candidates are making.”
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