Gloria Sanchez has lived under constant fear she could be separated from her children. The expansion of a federal immigration program set to start this week was supposed to give the Modesto mother an opportunity to avoid deportation and live openly in this country.
But a federal judge’s ruling has temporarily halted the program’s expansion, leaving many like Sanchez wondering how much longer they have to live in fear.
“It was a little heartbreaking,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “In Mexico, I don’t have nothing. This is my country. This is my home.”
Late Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas temporarily blocked recent executive actions by President Barack Obama to stop the deportations of millions of immigrants living in the U.S. who entered the country illegally. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by 26 states.
The federal judge did not rule on the legality of the immigration orders Obama announced in November. But he said there was sufficient merit to warrant a suspension of the program while the case goes forward.
No law gave the administration the power “to give 4.3 million removable aliens what the Department of Homeland Security itself labels as ‘legal presence,’” Hanen said in a memorandum opinion. “In fact, the law mandates that these illegally present individuals be removed.”
At the very least, the ruling will delay the application process, which was supposed to begin Wednesday. The White House quickly announced that the administration will appeal the ruling.
Immigration reform advocates in Stanislaus County and throughout the country were supposed to spend Tuesday raising public awareness about the program and offering free help to applicants. Now, their efforts seem to be at a standstill.
“Right now, everything is practically frozen,” said Adriana Garcia-Hernandez of Congregations Building Community. The Stanislaus chapter of the grass-roots organization has pushed for immigration reform and organized workshops to help applicants.
There are an estimated 40,000 undocumented immigrants in Stanislaus County, which has about 525,000 residents.
Reform advocates said the legal setback is merely temporary, and they urged immigrants to continue gathering needed documents to apply for the program once the lawsuit is thrown out of court.
“This decision is not permanent,” said Sergio Lara, California deputy director of Mi Familia Vota. He and a few dozen other advocates spoke to reporters Tuesday morning on the quad at the Modesto Junior College East Campus.
Patterson Mayor Luis Molina said it’s important to have a constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding immigration reform. He asked opponents of the president’s executive actions to meet with reform advocates such as himself to see what they do agree on.
“We’re talking about families,” Molina said. “We need to exclude politics from the equation.”
Obama issued his immigration orders shortly after the midterm election, saying he no longer could wait on Congress to reform border control laws that have left more than 11 million illegal immigrants in limbo. Under his orders, the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least five years were eligible to apply for three-year reprieves from deportation. Many also could receive work permits.
Garcia-Hernandez called the judge’s ruling a last-minute political stunt designed to discourage applicants. She said she wasn’t entirely surprised by the preliminary injunction, but she admitted that she and others feel somewhat demoralized by the news.
“This is not just something that is happening in our political sphere,” she said. “It’s actually affecting families.”
Despite the setback, she said advocates will continue to help applicants prepare and share their stories of being undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Immigrants such as Sanchez, who came to this country with her family when she was 14 from Michoacan, Mexico.
Sanchez now has a family of her own, with five children and one on the way. She started her own house-cleaning business in Modesto and is in the process of applying for a California driver’s license.
She applied for U.S. legal resident status 10 years ago, and she’s still waiting for a response from the federal government. The ruling in Texas by District Court Judge Hanen has stalled the immigration system again, but Sanchez vows to continue her effort.
“It has to change,” she said. “I’ve been here for 24 years fighting for the same thing.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.