By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Isabel Aguilar of Owings Mills, Maryland, who is not an American citizen and is not documented, has lived and worked in the United States for 13 years.
Suddenly let go from her job after five years, the native of Honduras found she could not apply for unemployment benefits because of her legal limbo.
And with her husband, a landscaper, finding work scarce during the fall and winter months, "It’s hard, because I don’t have any rights."
Aguilar, her 9-year-old daughter, Miranda, and 8-year-old son, Rolando, were among some 200 people attending an immigration rights rally Nov. 20 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.
Rallies there and at the White House marked the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s executive actions to protect from deportation both those who came to the U.S. as children and the immigrant parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents of this country.
But his executive actions, which are supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have yet to be implemented. They were put on hold Nov. 9 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which upheld a Texas-based federal judge’s injunction against Obama’s actions. The Justice
Department is appealing the circuit court’s ruling to the Supreme Court.
Obama’s executive actions expanded a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and created the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA.
"Deferred action" would allow an estimated 5 million immigrants who qualify to continue to work without fear of deportation.
"We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will accept and rule positively in this case, allowing the program to move forward so that immigrant families with U.S. citizen children can remain together and not fear deportation," said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Supreme Court rally was organized by CASA, a nonprofit immigrant service agency based in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Aguilar’s daughter and younger son have birthright citizenship; her 14-year-old son, Adolfo, who was a toddler when they first arrived in Florida, is not.
But America, she said, is all Adolfo knows.
"This is his country. He wants to go into the Army, and he can’t do it because he’s not born in this country. He doesn’t understand."
Miguel Contreras, a barber in Rockville, Maryland, has been a documented resident for three years and hopes next year to apply for full citizenship. Even though he’s not affected by the executive actions, he knows well the stories from those who are.
"They get humiliated, they get treated badly at their jobs, because they know their employers can take advantage of them," he told Catholic News Service at the rally. "They don’t think they have a voice.
"We need to fight for this," he added. "This country’s values are (to be) a nation of liberty and freedom."
Marly Arevalo, in her first year at Montgomery College, has lived in the United States for more than six years after her family arrived from Guatemala.
She would qualify for DACA, which "would open doors to more jobs, and more scholarships." After finishing college, she hopes to become a social worker.
Her family left Guatemala "because there were no opportunities to attend school, and there’s a lack of employment. We chose to travel to America, because it opens doors in those areas."
Despite the political hostility to the proposed executive actions and the appeals court ruling, which could mean eventual deportation, "I’m not fearful," she said. "Either way, I’m here fighting for my rights and the rights of others."