Undocumented Immigrant Awaits Government Action

By Lauren Sagl

Miguel Guzman, 32, describes how he got his first job in the U.S. as a plumber despite knowing very little English after leaving Mexico at the age of 17. (Photo: James Levin)
Miguel Guzman, 32, describes how he got his first job in the U.S. as a plumber despite knowing very little English after leaving Mexico at the age of 17. (Photo: James Levin)

WASHINGTON–As he stood outside the White House last November, Miguel A. Guzman listened with bated breath as President Barack Obama announced immigration policy changes that would protect an estimated 4.4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow Guzman to legally stay in the U.S. with his wife and two young children.

Now, after a federal judge in Texas halted the implementation of the programs last month, Guzman said it feels like “an ice bucket has been dumped on my head.”

“You want to be here to provide for your family but you always live with the fear that one day you go to work and get pulled over by police, they ask for your green card or social security card, and you don’t have it,” said Guzman. “There has been a lot of pain living in the shadows.”

Guzman, a 32-year-old plumber from Prince George’s County, has been undocumented in the United States for 15 years. Now, he stands to gain temporary permission to stay in the U.S. through the president’s proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program.

The proposed immigration changes include the start of the DAPA program, which would grant undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) temporary permission to stay in the U.S., called “deferred action.” Deferred action allows non-U.S. citizens to remain in the country temporarily and apply for a work permit. Under this program, Guzman would be considered a lawful resident for as long as his deferred action lasts.

The president also announced that he wanted to expand his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to give deferred action to older immigrants who were 16 years old and younger when they came to the U.S. undocumented.

“I wasn’t planning on staying here too long,” Guzman said. “As many of my Mexican friends and family came here, they worked and then they went back. But that was not my case.”

After living in Arizona for two months, Guzman came to the D.C. metro area to escape harsh laws for undocumented immigrants. Here he met his wife, an immigrant from Honduras with a Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Together, they have two children.

Seven years ago, Guzman started his own plumbing business to support his family, working out of the back of his two-door Mustang.

“I started off on Craigslist and advertised myself as a $100 small repairs plumber,” Guzman said. “People were calling me like crazy.”

Since then, Guzman’s business has taken off, and he has been able to upgrade to a new white van. However, without a social security number, Guzman cannot obtain a plumbing license.

“If I was able to get my plumber’s license, I could grow my business bigger, and then I can employ people and help this economy,” Guzman said. “That’s where I’m coming from.”

Guzman, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, knows that going back to Mexico with two young children is not feasible. The violence in Jalisco is so bad that the Department of State prohibits U.S. government personnel from taking personal travel trips to certain areas of the state.

Jayesh Rathod, an associate professor of law at American University who specializes in immigration law, believes the DAPA program and expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will greatly benefit the D.C. metro area.

“These programs are significant for D.C. because the area is an emerging gateway for immigrants, and we have a large Central American population trying to escape trafficking and bad governments,” said Rathod. “We have a lot of people poised to benefit from these programs.”

With an estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States, Rathod says that these programs address the reality that there are not enough resources in the budget to deport everyone.

According to Rathod, the lawsuit against these reforms was brought by 26 states, who argued that the proposed programs would result in costs incurred by the states.

“Normally, when the Executive Branch issues a new rule, that rule has to be subject to notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act, and all stakeholders get a say,” said Rathod.

While the Texas judge believes that these programs are a type of rule that should fall under notice and comment, President Obama has argued that they are not clear-cut rules, but rather statements of policy, under which the states can use discretion on how they implement the guidelines.

“It’s pretty clear if you look at the draft form, there is a discretionary component to it,” said Rathod.

If the Texas judge does not lift his injunction, the U.S. Justice Department has said it will take its request to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals , where Rathod believes the federal government has a better chance of prevailing.

This is based on a previous court case heard by the 5th Circuit, Villas at Parkside Partners v. City of Farmers Branch. In April 2012, a three-judge panel ruled that an ordinance prohibiting landlords to rent to tenants based on immigration status was unconstitutional because, “the ordinance’s sole purpose is not to regulate housing, but to exclude undocumented aliens, specifically Latinos, from the City of Farmers Branch, and that is an impermissible regulation of immigration.”

“The policy issues are similar,” said Rathod of the two cases. “The local jurisdiction challenged the federal government, and the Fifth Circuit sided with the federal government.”

Rathod estimates that an appeal could take four to six months, unless the 5th Circuit expedites it. Until then, undocumented immigrants like Guzman will remain in limbo.

“I hope this can be resolved as soon as possible and I hope that we can show Americans that we are willing to help this economy grow and this country,” said Guzman. “God bless America. That is for sure.”

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