Hall County’s Latino communities were left in limbo after a federal judge’s ruling last week blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Twenty-six states, including Georgia, filed suit to stop the executive action from proceeding, arguing the White House had overstepped its constitutional authority.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, said states have no legal standing to protest federal immigration policy and is planning an appeal.
The new immigration policy would allow millions of immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than five years, or are parents of American children, to remain here legally and, in some cases, obtain work permits.
Proponents said the judge’s ruling could push some immigrants back into the shadows, but they said they hope this is not the case.
“We do think this (executive action) will enable many families to be able to get work permits and eventually driver’s licenses, while also being able to continue to contribute taxes and be productive members of Hall County,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. “The attempts to stop this action are misguided political attempts not based on sound legal precedent.”
Gonzalez said about 116,000 Georgia families could potentially be affected by the president’s action.
Corps Officer Lt. Arnaldo Peña, who heads the Salvation Army chapter in Gainesville, said the immigration policy is meant to keep families intact.
Peña, whose family hails from Cuba, recalled when he was living in Miami. He once watched as a father boarded a plane and was deported to Mexico, separated from his wife and young children with little prospect of reuniting with them in the United States.
It can be a heartbreaking situation with unpredictable consequences, Peña said, and he said he believes the executive action on immigration needs to move forward.
“The sooner the better,” he added.
But the politics of the immigration debate remain controversial, and Republicans are trying to peg funding for the Department of Homeland Security on scrapping Obama’s executive action.
“The Senate has voted multiple times on the House-passed Homeland Security appropriations bill that would hold the president accountable for his unconstitutional executive amnesty,” U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, said in a statement. “The U.S. District Court in Texas has now affirmed that the president’s executive action on immigration may be illegal. It’s time to act on the Homeland Security funding bill and to stop this executive overreach.”
Funding for the DHS will expire Friday if no bill is passed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he would support holding separate votes to fund DHS and halt Obama’s executive action.
In the meantime, Gonzalez said he hopes undocumented immigrants won’t shy away from stepping forward.
“We are encouraging eligible immigrants to continue to prepare for qualifying for the expanded executive action, including many immigrants who will qualify that work in Gainesville’s poultry industry,” he said.