By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — People who closely follow the Supreme Court know it’s a waiting game.
There’s the wait to see if a case makes it to the court, the wait for a seat in the courtroom if it does, and then the wait — in this day and age of instant answers — for a court decision, which for major cases is typically at the end of the court’s term in late June.
United States v Texas, the immigration case argued before the court April 18, is hardly an exception. The case examines two immigration policies announced by President Barack Obama in executive actions in 2014: his expansion of a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA.
The actions, which would allow more than 4 million undocumented immigrants to temporarily work and remain in this country, have been challenged by 26 states, including Texas, that insist the president went too far.
Immigrants and family members who would be directly impacted by the court’s decision lined up overnight at the court hoping to get a seat inside and many joined them that morning outside to cheer, sing and hold placards of support.
Once the 90 minutes of arguments were over, those who will be impacted geared up for the likely two-month wait for the court to announce its verdict.
But waiting is something they know all too well.
Yara Hidalgo, who teaches middle school math and Spanish at Sacred Heart Nativity School in San Jose, California, certainly knows about it. Her family is from Mexico and her mother has been waiting for 15 years to get legal status through her sister’s sponsorship. Her father does not see a realistic path to becoming a U.S. citizen.
Hidalgo, who came to U.S. when she was almost 2 with her parents, has four younger, U.S. citizen siblings. Through DACA, she was able to get a driver’s license and Social Security number enabling her to apply for a job. She is currently in a master’s degree program for teaching in Catholic schools at California’s Santa Clara University.
Both her parents would likely benefit from DAPA. If either is deported, she would need to care for her siblings.
Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, wrote about Hidalgo in an April 18 commentary published on CNN’s website.
“I see individuals like Yara every day in my archdiocese. I regularly witness the contributions that they make to our church and our neighborhoods,” he wrote. He also said he sees their fear and disappointment from the constant threat of deportation and lost educational and professional opportunities due to their immigration status.
As families like the Hidalgos await the court’s decision, they also know there might not be a clear answer if the court offers a split decision, which many court watchers think is likely.
A 4-4 vote would put the president’s immigration policies on hold for the rest of his term and would be up for renewed discussion during the next presidency and add to a more heated presidential campaign.
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC, an umbrella organization for Catholic legal services providers, said the immigration community is already reeling from the negative rhetoric from political candidates.
She said she is “cautiously optimistic,” about how the court will rule in this case.
She was encouraged by strong points she said were made by U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., defending the Obama administration, that she didn’t think were counteracted by Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller representing the states accusing the president of overstepping his power.
If the court rules against Obama’s policies, she said it would be demoralizing for many immigrants, but it would not do away with other avenues that can be followed to help them achieve citizenship. And if the court rules in favor of these policies, there would also be long road ahead.
Atkinson noted that even with a victory, there still will be a need for “Congress to step up” and enact immigration legislation as these policies won’t solve every issue.
Sitting in the second row in the courtroom April 18, she said she felt she was “watching history being made.”
Looking around to see families and walking by groups outside reminded her of why people care about this issue so much.
“A positive outcome will benefit children and families and make our communities safe,” she said. “We can’t lose sight of that.”
Archbishop Wester, a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee, had a similar message: “As we hear commentary on U.S. v. Texas, we must set aside partisan opinions. Remember: Human lives will be affected by the ruling. We must recognize that regardless of their immigration status, those who would benefit from DAPA and expanded DACA are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and often our friends.”
The archbishop noted these policies aren’t perfect and would not “provide a long-term fix for our broken immigration system,” but he still said they would at “temporarily ensure that hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families can stay together in anticipation of the time when our legislators will enact just and humane immigration reform.”
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, voiced a similar view in the Feb. 16 Sacramento Bee daily newspaper.
He said the case before the Supreme Court is “not an amnesty program, nor does it fix the broken immigration system. Any significant reform will have to wait for a more reasoned conversation in Congress.”
For now, he said, the Obama administration was attempting to bring some security to many people living in ambiguity in a way that would allow “federal and local law enforcement to effectively allocate resources to protect our neighborhoods, not divide them.”
The bishop also hoped the justices who were present during Pope Francis’ address to Congress last September would remember the pope’s description of Moses, who viewed the law as a force for unity.
“Ultimately, laws must serve people and the common good. While we wait for Congress to assume this duty with regards to comprehensive and humane immigration reform, the court can call on the wisdom of Moses to bring a measure of unity and security to immigrant families as well as the nation,” he said.
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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.