The story of a 45-year-old mother from Edinburg and her mixed-status family reached the nation’s highest court this past month as eight Supreme Court justices debate a case that directly affects millions of immigrants like her across the country.
The mother of three, identified as Jane Doe No. 1, is one of three women from the Rio Grande Valley who are part of the United States v. Texas lawsuit, which is challenging an executive action by President Obama that could potentially grant temporary legal status for up to four million people in the country illegally.
Jane Doe No. 1 agreed to speak with a reporter only if she was not identified in fear of deportation.
“I am very grateful to the people that are giving us this opportunity, but I don’t feel like this is about me or my family,” the mother said. “This is about the millions of people who are living in the shadows and drive around with fear when they drop off their children at school or go to work or to the store.”
Two of her children were born in the U.S. after she and her husband illegally came into the country with her eldest daughter 16 years ago. In the past few years, her former home of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, has become a haven for criminal organizations involved in everything from drug trafficking to kidnappings and mass murder.
Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which was announced in November 2014, is the only option this mother has without having to leave her family and face the violence that has plagued her native land.
“Our home is here. We don’t have anything in Mexico,” the mother said. “This is the only option for us to be able to work and visit our daughter, who lives in Austin, and to be with our children. The other option would be for us to go back to Mexico and stay there for 10 years and fix our papers through her.”
Local immigration attorney Carlos Moctezuma Garcia is the unidentified women’s local counsel and was contacted by the Mexican American Legal Defense last year when it was looking to humanize its case before U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville.
“They are the ones that could give the human aspect to this case,” Garcia said. “It’s significant because MALDEF were the only lawyers that were arguing for people and not institutions.”
Hanen denied their motion to intervene but the women were later allowed to be a part of the case when the Fifth District Court of Appeals overturned the decision earlier this year. MALDEF attorneys argued the Jane Does in this case were not seeking to defend a governmental policy they support on ideological grounds, but rather they are the intended beneficiaries of the program being challenged.
Garcia explained the issues being argued right now in the nation’s highest court affect everyone in the country, despite their political affiliations or stance on immigration, and even more so in the Rio Grande Valley. He held a small information seminar Wednesday at the unidentified mother’s home in Edinburg to inform people in the community about the status of the case in the Supreme Court and about the possible future of DAPA and DACA.
“Nobody knows these issues better than our community because we deal with this on a daily basis,” Garcia said.
Transcripts from the April 18 hearing show the eight Supreme Court justices focused on the issue of driver’s licenses being issued by the state of Texas to those that would qualify for DAPA.
“I’ve read in the briefs quite a lot that the reason that they don’t want to give driver’s licenses to these 500,000 extra people is it’s expensive,” said Justice Stephen Breyer. “Is there any other reason that’s in this record, such as — we could imagine other reasons. Is there any serious effort to rest their claim? We don’t want to give them licenses on anything other than money?
“Yes your honor,” answered MALDEF lead attorney in this case Thomas Saenz. “I believe, your honor, that, in fact, this is a political dispute. They do not agree with the policy adopted by the administration, though they have conceded in this case that it is within the executive’s discretionary authority.”
The issue of injury was the main focus because it would determine if Texas, in fact, has standing to uphold the lawsuit.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn delivered a statement from the Senate floor following the Supreme Court hearing accusing President Obama of “running around,” the U.S. Constitution and calling Obama’s executive action unlawful.
“This is really more than just about immigration,” Cornyn said. “It is about the Constitution itself.”
“I am confident that the court will find that the states have suffered real harm from the standpoint of the Constitutional notion of standing,” he added.
Heide Castañeda, associate professor and graduate director in the department of anthropology at the University of South Florida, said no one is talking about what these driver’s licenses mean to an undocumented immigrant.
“For those parents who are afraid to drive their kids to the doctor, now they have more access, more ability to be mobile,” Castañeda said. “This takes away that fear, and it also gives them an ID card, which is a valuable way of validating that they are residents in the U.S.”
Castañeda has been following 40 families in the Rio Grande Valley since 2012 as part of her qualitative research on immigration and mixed-status families. She said the Rio Grande Valley is unique because of the checkpoints and the fact that almost everyone in the community is directly affected by immigration laws.
“In other parts of the nation, people are similarly affected, often unable to get driver’s licenses and work permits and so forth, but the Valley is unique in the checkpoint issue in that it actually impacts education more than it does in other parts,” Castañeda said.
The mother from Edinburg remembered Friday when her daughter was 12 years old and her class was planning a trip to north of the checkpoint to San Antonio.
“She came home and told us she couldn’t go on this trip because she didn’t have papers,” the mother said. “And I told her, ‘You were born here; you can go.’”
She said it was funny for her at the time because her daughter was actually upset she was not undocumented like her parents, but it made the mother realize how affected her daughter, who was a U.S. citizen, was by her own immigration status.
She said her eldest daughter also decided to stay in the Valley after high school instead of going to college because she knew that if she studied somewhere north of the checkpoint, her parents would not be able to visit her or see her walk during graduation.
“It’s sad when you see your kids grow up thinking that they are also undocumented because their parents can’t go out,” the mother said. “I can see that there is a lot of frustration building, not just in my family, but in our community, which is mostly made up of immigrants.”
“Everyone knows there are 11 million of us here, but every single one of us has children, family and loved ones that are directly affected by the current immigration policy.”