The repercussions of an eight-person U.S. Supreme Court became very apparent June 23 when the court published its decision on United States v. Texas. The case revolved around President Obama's 2014 executive order regarding undocumented immigrants. Indiana was one of 26 states claiming Obama had overstepped his authority. Because the high court was evenly split in its decision, the opinion of the lower court — which decided in favor of the states — stands, effectively making Obama's order null and void.
The president's order was to expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and to implement a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DACA was first initiated in 2012 and allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children before their 16th birthday and before 2007 to apply for a temporary work visa and be exempt from deportation. Any applications had to be submitted before the person turned 31 years of age. The DACA expansion the president announced in November 2014 extended the deadline for entry from 2007 to 2010 and eliminated the age 31-deadline for applications. The DAPA program would have been a new thing, allowing the undocumented parents of children born in the United States or children who had lawful permanent residency status to also be exempt from deportation and apply for a renewable temporary work visa.
Neither order would have been a path to citizenship, and would only be valid if the person remained a law-abiding citizen in the criminal sense. (Currently the only way to become a naturalized U.S. citizen is if you have a Permanent Resident card, more commonly known as a Green Card. While the list for eligibility for a Green Card is long, the application process is long and complicated, especially for people who don't even know where to begin.)
What the executive orders would have done (and what the existing DACA program does) for undocumented immigrants who fell within those parameters is give them a government identification number in place of a Social Security number for the purpose of finding a job and filing for income taxes.
Those in support of the measure tried to emphasize how the orders would have allowed those immigrants who have only known the U.S. to be their home to remain and continue to live as everyday Americans. Families would remain together as a unit in one location instead of being separated by borders and governments.
Out of the estimated 85,000 undocumented immigrants living in Indiana, 30,000 of them would have been eligible for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) under Obama's order. Indianapolis immigration lawyer Kevin Muñoz says the executive order was seen as a "beacon of hope" for those who are just trying to make a better life for themselves.
"There was heartbreak for a lot of people because they had their hopes set on the Deferred Action programs," says Muñoz about the Supreme Court's decision. "It was viewed as a way to regain a sense of dignity. For a lot of people, this was their civil rights moment."
Muñoz says although the decision is disappointing because it is a setback for those immigrants who were looking for a way to legitimize their presence in this country, it doesn't change the need for reform in immigration law or the need for immediate relief for immigrants on the state level.
"The impact primarily for Indiana residents is the continued denial of a driver's license for people who are present here in the community and supporting their families," says Muñoz. "In Indiana the legislature refuses to address the licenses of undocumented residents as a problem. And that is one of the major hardships of people in the United States."
In 2005 Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which set standards for identification through state-issued driver's licenses or identification cards for federal identification purposes. The act was the result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission in its study of the 2001 terror event. Only identification meeting the REAL ID criteria can be used to board a plane or access federal properties. The act allows for states to have a non-secure identification card for state purposes, like driving a car, voting identification and other local uses. However, in Indiana, only residents who already had a driver's license when the new requirements took effect in 2010 could choose between a secure ID and a non-secure ID. All new applications must meet the secure ID requirements. Non-secure identification can only be obtained after a secure ID is issued.
The federal requirements for a REAL ID include a social security number or government identification number for residency — something undocumented residents don't have, but could have received under DACA or DAPA status.
"The hardship is they are trying to provide for their families, but they're not receiving any attention in the legislature for getting a license. Other states have already moved in that direction," says Muñoz.
Undocumented immigrants resort to driving without licenses and insurance (something else that requires valid ID) because of the necessity of travel for basic life — travel to work, school, retail needs, public assistance, etc. And everything is fine, until they get into an accident or get pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. For the average American citizen, those things result at worst in a fine and/or higher insurance premiums. For the undocumented, the charges add up quickly and could result in deportation.
Driving without a license or insurance is just one of the violations undocumented immigrants commit in order to survive. It's no secret that many of those undocumented commit identity deception by obtaining falsified identities to use for obtaining employment. But for those without the proper paperwork, it can be the only way to provide for a family.
Ironically, Indiana loses financially in this decision. While Gov. Pence and other governors who pushed the suit finally have a victory to hold over President Obama, the state loses revenue that would have been generated from the employment of those immigrants here.
"It robs Indiana of the legitimacy of paying taxes," says Muñoz.
The path to dignity without fear may be gone for now with the cancelation of DAPA and an extended DACA, but it is just one battle in the war for immigration reform. Muñoz says the advocates for the undocumented will continue to fight and bring awareness to the issues for the quest for change and this decision only emphasizes the importance of this year's national election.