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Supreme Court to Rule on Landmark Immigration Case

  • Aline Barros

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2016.

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2016.

Rosario Reyes says las pandillas, or gangs, always lingered in her neighborhood in El Salvador, but she became even more afraid after her brother-in-law was assassinated in a shooting on his way home from work. Gang members shot him 12 times during a robbery.

She feared for her life, her husband Ramon, and their two young children, Ricardo and Jose. Although her brother-in-law was not a gang member, the family began to receive threats.

The Reyes then decided to move to a place where they could find safety.

Ramon left El Salvador in 2002 and a year later, Rosario Reyes began the difficult journey to meet him in Maryland. This path included days of traveling until she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

"My husband and I, we were afraid. We wanted to get away from the criminality," she said.

Rosario Reyes and her family are among the 4 million undocumented immigrants who could be allowed to live and work legally in the United States without the constant fear of deportation.

A decision could come this week if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of President Barack Obama's immigration actions in the landmark case United States v. Texas.

FILE - Immigration activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court in Washington in support of President Barack Obama's executive order to grant relief from deportation in order to keep immigrant families together, March 18, 2016.

FILE - Immigration activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court in Washington in support of President Barack Obama's executive order to grant relief from deportation in order to keep immigrant families together, March 18, 2016.

The lawsuit

The case focuses on Obama's 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, and the expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA.

The measures would protect young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They would also extend deportation protections to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years. Both actions would allow them to work legally for a period of two years subject to renewal.

A lawsuit brought by 26 states, led by Texas, as well as congressional Republicans, challenged the executive orders and argued that Obama did not have the power to effectively change immigration laws.

A federal judge in Texas agreed to hear the challenge brought by those states and these executive orders have been on hold since 2015.

In April, the Supreme Court heard both sides in the case.

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, arguing for the lawsuit, called the president's order "one of the largest immigration changes" in American history, saying the program defers deportations and changes a person's immigration status since it allows undocumented immigrants to obtain work authorizations.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. argued the government's case. He said the phrase "lawful presence," that means being in the United States legally, could be removed from the language in the executive orders without changing their impact.

The president said he took the executive actions after Congress failed to overhaul the immigration system.

According to the Federal Registry, Obama has issued 244 executive orders between 2009 and 2016. George W. Bush issued 292 executive actions during his two terms as president.

President Barack Obama speaks during a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, Dec. 15, 2015.

President Barack Obama speaks during a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, Dec. 15, 2015.

Possible outcomes

Supreme Court justices could side with Obama's administration policies and allow the 4 million immigrants who qualify under the executive actions to live and work legally in the U.S.

The high court could also agree with a lower court's ruling, which froze the immigration actions, and these executive orders would likely remain stalled.

The third possibility is a tie. With the death in February of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, only eight members are on the bench. The lower court's ruling would stand if the outcome ends in a tie.

Rosario Reyes' third child, Victor, was born in 2008 in Maryland. He is the only family member who is a U.S. citizen. Because of Victor, both parents qualify for DAPA.

Even a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court, the 38-year-old mother's plight would still not be over. She had to leave her other sons, Jose and Ricardo, with her mother when she left El Salvador for the U.S.

Years later, Ricardo, the eldest son, embarked on the same journey to see his parents again. Jose, the middle child, stayed behind in El Salvador and their mother said she has not seen him since he was a year old. He is now 14.

In a phone interview, through tears, Rosario Reyes said being away from her son is one of the hardest struggles she has had to endure.

Mother and son keep in touch through Facebook and its messaging application WhatsApp. Rosario Reyes also uses social media to check Jose's homework and talks about hopes and dreams for the future.

"He says ‘Mom, I love you very much. I want to see you but I don't want to be undocumented. I want to be free. I have dreams,’" she added.

The family is hoping to work with U.S. authorities to get Jose a visa. Son Ricardo is a DACA recipient. He graduated from a Maryland public high school and is now working to pay for his college education.

Rosario Reyes takes care of children while her husband works in construction.

"We are not criminals. We are honored people. We work hard... I have faith that [the ruling] will be a yes. We will be free," she told VOA.

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