Foon Rhee

Deadlock on immigration has a high human cost

Janney Olvera, 3, hugs her mother Alejandra Olvera at a vigil in Austin, Texas, on Thursday in response to the Supreme Court decision blocking President Barack Obama’s immigration executive orders.
Janney Olvera, 3, hugs her mother Alejandra Olvera at a vigil in Austin, Texas, on Thursday in response to the Supreme Court decision blocking President Barack Obama’s immigration executive orders. Austin American-Statesman

A lot of the initial reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court stalemate on immigration centered on the politics of it all, completely understandable in an election year. If you care about immigration reform, it’s one of many good reasons to make sure to vote in November for president and Congress.

But the impact of Thursday’s ruling blocking the president’s executive orders will ripple across America in a very human way. It will affect millions of families, many of them in California, home to more undocumented immigrants than any other state.

In late 2014, President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program. It would protect from deportation and provide work permits to as many as 3.6 million undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents. According to Migration Policy Institute estimates, that includes 1.1 million immigrants in California, nearly twice as many as Texas, the state with the next most.

But the impact would have been far broader because the eligible adults are in households totaling more than 10 million people, the Migration Policy Institute and Urban Institute jointly reported this year.

Authorizing these undocumented adults to work could reduce poverty and raise average family income by 10 percent, their report says. The poverty rate of these families is 36 percent, far higher than 22 percent for all immigrant families, according to the report.

More immediately, the Supreme Court deadlock also puts the kibosh on California’s plans to expand health insurance coverage to undocumented immigrants who are poor. Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agreed last year to allow those granted deferred action to apply for Medi-Cal, eventually covering somewhere between 310,000 to 440,000 adults, say researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Advocacy groups also talk about the psychological and social toll of being in legal limbo, though the president made clear Thursday he doesn’t intend to step up deportations of those covered by his executive orders. With limited agents and money, he’s right to find and deport criminals first.

The Supreme Court deadlock also stops Obama’s 2014 order to expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. That covers 275,000, including 92,000 in California.

Of those adults covered by DAPA, about 70 percent have lived here 10 years or more, and 25 percent at least 20 years, according to Migration Policy Center estimates. They’re parents of 4.3 million children, about 85 percent of whom are citizens.

Whatever your position on immigration reform and a path to citizenship, and even if it were logistically possible, you have to be pretty hard-hearted – or Donald Trump – to want to split up families. I daresay it’s downright un-American.

By the numbers

Immigrants eligible for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and total undocumented immigrants in selected states:

  • California: 1.1 million, 3.03 million
  • Texas: 559,000, 1.46 million
  • New York: 231,000, 867,000
  • Illinois: 183,000, 519,000
  • Florida: 150,000, 605,000
  • Arizona: 97,000, 264,000
  • Nevada: 48,000, 138,000
  • Oregon: 44,000, 115,000

Estimates of undocumented immigrants in selected California counties:

  • Los Angeles: 1,062,000
  • San Diego: 205,000
  • Fresno: 86,000
  • Sacramento: 63,000
  • San Joaquin: 52,000
  • San Francisco: 45,000
  • Stanislaus: 38,000
  • Merced: 25,000

Source: Migration Policy Institute