A Long Island immigrant’s plea will be part of deliberations when U.S. Supreme Court justices listen to oral arguments Tuesday on whether a program protecting young immigrants from deportation should be rescinded — and she’s making sure she’s there to witness the proceedings.
Eliana Fernández, a Patchogue resident and native of Ecuador, is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit scheduled to be heard by the top court over the fate of more than 660,000 “Dreamers” protected from deportation. The program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has shielded them from immigration enforcement since it was issued under former President Barack Obama’s authority in 2012, though it was ordered terminated in September 2017 by President Donald Trump’s administration.
She’s among a group of dozens of immigrants and supporters who spent more than two weeks walking from New York City to Washington, D.C., to call attention to their plight.
Fernández, 31, said she signed on to the “crazy idea” of the walk because she wanted to make a statement. In her heart and mind, as she walked along streets and near highways, were two powerful reasons: her daughter, 12, and son, 7, who were born American citizens.
“I did it for my kids,” said Fernández, lead Long Island organizer for immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York. “I want to make sure families like ours can stay together and they don’t have to go through any trauma of family separation.”
Fernández is one of six lead plaintiffs in the Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen case, filed in New York’s Eastern District to claim DACA’s termination was reached without proper notice and deliberations and that it was “arbitrary and capricious.” The case, and two others out of California and D.C., have led to nationwide injunctions leaving the deportation protections temporarily in place, but the administration has maintained the executive action was “an unconstitutional exercise of authority” under Obama.
The justices’ ruling, expected anytime between now and June 2020, will determine whether those DACA recipients, who were brought or stayed in the country illegally as children, have a future in the United States or will be expected to return to their birth countries.
Critics of the DACA program said their support for its termination is about bolstering the rule of law.
“I think everybody feels empathy that they [DACA recipients] have been put in a situation not of their own making, but their parents knew what they were doing when they brought them to the United States illegally,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a D.C. group that pushes for strict enforcement and favors deportations. “They were putting their kids in a difficult situation.”
Dreamers, however, have garnered sympathy from immigrant advocacy groups, churches, educational institutions and even businesses and their chambers of commerce.
DACA recipients earn $23 billion in total household income and contribute $4 billion in federal, state and local taxes annually, said a Monday letter to congressional leaders from more than 50 chambers of commerce organized by the New American Economy, a group that has financial backing from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“What’s at stake is not just the future of these groups of people … but their communities,” said Hanna Siegel, New American Economy’s managing director.
Fernández, who came to the U.S. at age 14, said the deportation threat she and others face has only held them back from their full potential. She’s pursuing a master’s degree and bought a home with her husband, but doesn’t know if months from now she’ll be asked to leave.
“In my personal opinion, I’m an American in every way but papers,” Fernández said. “I want the justices to be able to see our humanity.”