by Félix Pérez
Standing alongside a U.S. senator, a priest and a police chief, and facing a bank of cameras at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol, 24-year-old Austin, Texas, high school teacher Areli Zárate delivered a message on behalf of her students: the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold presidential executive actions that allow her immigrant students and their families to no longer live in constant fear of being separated.
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“As a teacher, I work every day to give my students the best I can,” said Zárate. “But I know I can’t expect them to focus on what we’re doing in school when they are stressed and anxious about their families and their future. I know because I was in their shoes, my status now is only temporary. I need Congress to act on a permanent solution and pass immigration reform. I am speaking out today for the millions who want nothing more than to walk out of the shadows and into a future built on the promise of an America that breaks down barriers instead of building walls.”
The news conference was the held the same day — March 9 — that more than 70 organizations, including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Community Colleges, the National Women’s Law Center and the Children’s Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Texas. The amicus brief urges the Court to vacate a preliminary injunction that blocked the implementation of executive actions announced by President Barack Obama in 2014 aimed at keeping millions of children and families together.
“Keeping families together is essential to keeping America strong,” said Utah elementary school teacher Lily Eskelsen García in a statement. Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, added:
Educators know from experience that family unity plays a critical role in student success. Yet a growing number of public school students live in fear that our nation’s immigration policies are breaking up their families, forcing them to choose between their country and their loved ones. What we also know . . . is that children whose parents face removal from the United States are more likely to suffer a host of harms, particularly to their educational opportunities and psychosocial well-being. These young people deserve the very best education and support we can give them. The United States has been their home. They have celebrated their birthdays, attended school, and dreamed their dreams right here in the USA.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey, said, “Today, more than ever, at a time when the ugly side of politics has made our communities the target of fear-mongering attacks, we stand united to say our fight to bring our brothers and sisters out of the shadows is still not over. And come April 18, when all eyes turn to the Supreme Court, we are confident the Court will see through the hate and the political theater, and justice will ultimately prevail because our nation lives by its values and builds bridges instead of walls.”
Added Menendez, “Law enforcement officials, teachers, religious leaders, immigrant rights leaders, DREAMers, and everyone who believes in the merits of our case, remain united in our call for a fairer immigration system rooted in the fundamental American beliefs of justice, humanity and keeping families together.” Menendez co-lead a group of 225 Democratic Members of Congress in submitting an amicus brief in support of President Obama’s immigration executive actions.
In November 2014, President Obama announced Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These two initiatives would allow millions of immigrants to apply for protection from deportation and a work permit. The executive actions also keep families united.
Soon after the president announced these initiatives, Texas and 25 other states filed a lawsuit challenging them. In February 2015, a federal district court in Texas issued a nationwide order that put DAPA and expanded DACA on hold. The Obama administration appealed this decision. In November, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a decision that affirmed the Texas court’s order that temporarily blocks DAPA and expanded DACA from being implemented.
Zárate, who came to the United States as a child with her family because of escalating violence, received temporary relief from deportation and work authorization under the initial version of DACA. Her mother, on the other hand, who qualifies for DAPA, is subject to deportation. “Every day, I worry about her. If she were forced to return to Mexico, she would be exposed to unspeakable violence. She would be separated from everything she knows. She would be forced to leave her children behind.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in United States v. Texas April 18. The court could announce its decision as early as June.