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Immigration: Litigation, retractions, and more promises

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Following is a column by Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor at America’s Voice, translated from Spanish to English. The original Spanish-language version is available to read here.

May 19 was supposed to mark the implementation of the new deferred action program for the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, known as the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA program. Instead, immigrants wait for the courts to decide the future of those that would have benefited from that initiative and from the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Twenty months away from President Barack Obama completing his second and final term in offce, the immigrant community and those who support them still have not seen results from the promise of comprehensive immigration reform that he made in 2008. Many DREAMers have benefitted from Obama’s 2012 DACA program, but the DACA expansion and the DAPA program to protect their parents, both announced in 2014, are mired in a legal battle with clear political overtones.

It is in that context that the 2016 presidential candidates begin to court the Latino vote.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has made a dual promise: to fight for immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and failing that, to fight for the executive actions introduced by President Barack Obama and to expand them to increase the number of potential beneficiaries. This Sunday, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros said on Univision’s Al Punto that current HUD Secretary Julián Castro is number one on the list of potential running mates for the front-running Democrat, if, as expected, she dances away with the nomination (if there was still any doubt that Clinton is aggressively courting the Latino vote).

On the Republican side, potential candidate Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have said they would support reform after “securing the border” – but it is unclear whether this reform would result in legalization with a path to citizenship or without one. Both oppose Obama’s executive actions, but both have said that if they become president they would not immediately revoke the 2012 DACA, because people are currently enrolled in that program. Instead, DACA would end when it is replaced by some kind of legislative immigration reform, for which they have not provided details. DAPA is another story. Rubio said he would repeal the program because it has not yet been implemented, and Bush said he “has not decided” how he would handle DREAMers’ parents.

Interestingly, during the same Al Punto show, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez, who championed immigration reform with a path to citizenship during George W. Bush’s presidency and who now supports Jeb Bush, defended the idea of legalization without a path to citizenship that the former Florida governor has floated without any strong commitment.

“The Democratic candidate (Clinton) has said that she wants to force a path to citizenship. The problem is that we have to do what can be done. We must do what is possible…And I believe that what is possible is legalization…that millions of people can be made legal, they can travel abroad, they can return, they can work. And to reject an agreement that doesn’t include a path to citizenship but does include legalization, I believe that’s demagoguery,” Gutiérrez said.

On Fox News, Rubio said he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform, which he first supported and then rejected, but that the House of Representatives doesn’t have the votes to pass it.

Many immigrants wait cautiously. Ricardo is a 48-year-old undocumented Mexican who has been living in the United States for 20 years. He doesn’t qualify for DAPA, but his daughter could benefit from DACA.

“All politicians say the same thing when the elections approach. Marco Rubio is too young for the presidency, and Jeb Bush may follow the same line as his father and brother. So that leaves Hillary Clinton, but hopefully it doesn’t end up like Obama with his promises,” Ricardo said.

In this complicated debate, we often look at the undocumented like they are operating in a vacuum. That ignores the fact that most have been living in the United States for a decade or more, many of them for more than two decades, and that they have jobs, families, and citizen children. An estimated five million U.S. citizen children have at least one undocumented parent, and in some cases both parents are undocumented.

Those that oppose comprehensive immigration reform and the executive actions say that they are defending the Constitution and the rights of U.S. citizens,  except more than five million of those American citizens have undocumented parents.

They seem to forget that within that group there are voters and future voters who will remember when they register and when they vote which politicians demonized their parents, which helped them, and who made promises they didn’t keep.

This Tuesday May 19 would have marked the implementation of the DAPA program, but instead the election season begins in the midst of lawsuits, attacks, retractions, mounting promises, and above all, the same immigration limbo for the millions who wait for a solution.