(RNS) As an immigration lawyer for more than 30 years, I have seen how immigration laws evolve in response to the needs of the country, world events and the political winds. The result is an inconsistent mishmash that traps hopeful immigrants and rips families apart.
As a Catholic sister, I reflect on the values and church teachings that should inform just and prudent immigration policies. Pope Francis speaks about the dignity of every person and rails against treating immigrants as mere pawns on a global chessboard.
With these two lenses I approach the Supreme Court case United States v. Texas, which concerns the legality of the president’s authority to issue executive orders.
On Monday (April 18), the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case as hundreds of faith leaders, immigrant families, labor leaders and immigrant rights groups prayed and rallied on the court’s doorstep.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parent Accountability) suspend the deportations of undocumented young immigrants and parents who meet certain criteria and pose no security threat.
The justices’ ruling will have enormous consequences for immigrant families and our nation’s values.
During the first decade of the 21st century, multiple legislative attempts to fix our broken immigration system failed. The fear and division that started in the wake of 9/11 proved impossible to overcome.
All the while, families that include a mix of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and undocumented members have been trapped in inescapable limbo. That was the context of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that enabled young people who came to the U.S. before age 16 to get temporary deferral from deportation and a work permit.
An example is a young man named Ramon who came to this country with his parents and sister as a child. His dad became a legal permanent resident in 2005 and filed a petition for the family to join him.
While Ramon’s sister and mother became legal permanent residents, he is still waiting in line for a family visa after 11 years.
In the meantime, he graduated college and was offered a job in Hollywood. Having no work permit and no Social Security card, he had to decline. However, he qualified for deferral status and joined 700,000 other young folk given a chance to pursue their dreams without fear of expulsion from the country they call home.
In November 2014, after bipartisan immigration reform that passed the Senate withered in the House of Representatives without a vote, Obama issued an additional executive order expanding deferrals for parents of American citizens.
If these orders are upheld by the Supreme Court, an estimated 183,000 parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, as well as 14,000 people who arrived here as children, would become protected from deportation in the state of Illinois alone.
Last fall I met a family of six U.S.-citizen children reared by their grandmother because their undocumented parents were deported after the father appeared in court to pay a fine for a minor traffic violation. The 11-year-old daughter then attempted suicide, thinking that one less family member would lessen the burden on her abuela.
Who is served by tearing apart these families? Pope Francis in his recent letter “The Joy of Love” affirmed that stable families are the building blocks of society. Dividing them harms us all.
The president’s executive orders are precarious solutions, like circling O’Hare Airport waiting for a runway that hasn’t been built.
Until Congress paves the runway by passing comprehensive immigration reform, the president has the authority to prevent further harm through executive action.
(Sister Bernadine Karge, a sister in the Dominican order, is a lawyer in Chicago)