Arkansas Immigrants Prepare As President's Executive Orders Remain In Limbo

Mar 3, 2015

Jenna Greer, Central Arkansas Organizer for the Arkansas United Community Coalition, gives a presentation at Hall High School in Little Rock.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Of the many immigrants thought to be in the United States illegaly, the Arkansas United Community Coalition estimates 60,000 of them are in Arkansas. Of those, they say half would likely benefit from President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration. The state is now one of 26 fighting the President in court, but the AUCC continues to ready immigrants in case the President’s orders take effect.

That was the case recently, where about a dozen people, including immigrants hoping to apply for deferred action against deportation available through the President’s immigration orders, gathered in Little Rock's Hall High School library. They heard from Jenna Greer, a local organizer for the Arkansas United Community Coalition.

“We're here today to inform and to motivate....Why? So people can take advantage of this reform and get involved,” she said.

Organizers with the AUCC have been hosting small presentations like this since the President's November immigration announcement. But this presentation was one of the group's first since federal judge in Brownsville, Texas issued a temporary injunction blocking the order.

“It's the belief of our organization that the president is within his constitutional right and there have been other instances like this that have occurred in the past that have been deemed constitutional,” Greer said.

The AUCC hopes to educate immigrants about DAPA, Deferred Action for Parent Accountability and DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. While the AUCC is helping immigrants apply for differed action, the state is one of 26 trying to stop the President’s most recent e xecutive order. It joined the Texas lawsuit in December at the urging of then Attorney General-elect Leslie Rutledge.

“This lawsuit and all I'm interested in is the president's and the administration's overreach in bypassing Congress and taking away the rights of the states and creating a burden for them,” said Rutledge.

Rutledge says joining the lawsuit is not a blanket challenge to new immigration policies, it is merely about the limitations of executive authority. The burdens, she says, are mainly financial ones.

“It could range from a number of government services [including] the issuing of id's,” she said.

However, advocates for the potentially affected immigrants argue that with temporary legal status comes the responsibility of paying taxes and further contributing to state and federal coffers.

The deferred action programs offer protection from deportation for three years. It would allow applicants to get social security numbers, driver's licenses and work permits. It would not allow applicants to pursue citizenship.

But now that this immigration policy is pending in the courts, many who were planning to apply for deferred action feel a newfound uncertainty.

“Since the announcement we were waiting and expecting for a time for us to come to apply and now this order from a judge basically block[ed] our hopes and our dreams,” said Ruth Vasquez, who attended the presentation with her husband Jaime. She said a had a few questions beforehand about what documents to have ready and where to apply.

Vasquez was born in Mexico. She says twenty years ago, at the age of 26, she came to Arkansas, after briefly residing in California, because, she says, “The rent is cheaper,” in Arkansas. Her four children were all born in the state and are citizens, so she and her husband would likely qualify for the 3-year period of legal status. Jenna Greer with the AUCC says questions after the Hall High event were typical.

“Main questions had to do with just really understanding the qualifications as far as age, time in country and then some particular details to do with a deportation-in-process case,” she said.

While Greer says some of those more complicated questions are best left to legal professionals, the group hopes to help at least 5,000 eligible Arkansas immigrants apply for deferred action this year. They plan to open legal workshops over the summer. But those plans may depend on the fate of the president's executive order in the courts.