Immigrant rights groups undeterred in wake of Texas court ruling

Determined Bay Area immigrant rights activists insisted Tuesday that a Texas judge’s ruling blocking President Obama’s executive action on immigration won’t deter them from assisting thousands in completing applications for extended visas.

They also called the judge’s order a political act, and were optimistic that it would be overturned.

“This is a temporary roadblock, but we’re going to keep moving forward,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, which assists immigrants with citizenship and extended-visa applications. “We don’t want people to get discouraged,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Judge Andrew Hanen’s temporary order Monday came two days before some of those 11 million immigrants would have been able to apply for deportation relief and work permits under executive action the president took in November. The Obama administration said it would appeal the judge’s order to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The ruling, in response to a multistate lawsuit, temporarily halted expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program designed to help youths brought to the United States as undocumented children obtain extended visas to remain in the country. It also blocked the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, which would have provided temporary deportation relief for some undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Solidly Democratic California is home to as many as 2.6 million people living in the country without proper documentation, almost a quarter of all those in the United States, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles — one of the state’s leading immigrant rights groups — said the ruling was political. He insisted it wouldn’t deter immigrants, who “should be ready to apply with all the right documentation when the Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit throws this out the door,” from applying for the programs.

Cabrera said the judge’s order “does create a certain amount of uncertainty in the lives of those who eagerly await their moment out of the shadows,” exactly what Republicans who have vociferously opposed the president’s actions and who brought the legal challenge were seeking.

“We do believe that this is a temporary ruling — and we will continue fighting on,’’ he said.

In San Francisco, Pon said she had gotten calls from immigrants here and in other cities after the ruling, and said that officials had expected “some sort of legal challenge to the president’s executive actions and some attempt to delay implementation.”

But “we don’t see this as a cancellation or an invalidation of administrative relief,” she said, adding: “We don’t believe the executive’s actions are unlawful; they’re necessary to help fix a broken system … and Congress hasn’t taken any action.’’

Pon said the city, with the help of community organizations, has helped “thousands” complete applications for DACA and for citizenship. The city is home to about 101,000 legal permanent residents who may be eligible for citizenship, and as many as 12,000 who may be eligible for DACA.

While the judge’s ruling “is definitely going to delay the rollout of DACA and DAPA,” she said, “it definitely doesn’t stop the city from continuing its immigrant assistance program.”

Pablo Lastra, asylum program coordinator with the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, agreed that the ruling appeared more political in nature.

“When I see this ruling and the constitutional basis behind it, it is shaky,” Lastra said. “This case appears to have been “filed with political intent, and the plaintiffs brought the case before a judge they knew would be receptive.”

The Texas ruling was met with an avalanche of reaction from California political leaders.

Gov. Jerry Brown Tuesday issued a statement saying the state “stands firmly with the White House,” adding, “further delay will not fix our broken immigration system.”

Brown’s office noted he supported the Dream Act to allow young immigrants without proper documents to remain under certain conditions, along with AB60, which extends the legal right to drive on the state’s roadways to millions more Californians, and that he has signed legislation to provide legal services to unaccompanied minors arriving in California from Central America. Obama implemented parts of the Dream Act by executive order in 2012.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was sharply critical, saying, “How sad for our impacted DREAMers and their families, how necessary it is for an immediate appeal of this ruling. I am confident such an appeal will succeed.”

But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista (San Diego County), praised the ruling, lauding Hanen for recognizing what he called “the direct damage and irreparable harm that will be caused by President Obama’s unconstitutional executive actions.”

San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said while many in the GOP are sympathetic to the immigrants, “there’s widespread agreement in the GOP that the president’s unilateral actions, essentially granting amnesty to millions of people, is a bridge too far,” she said.

“He did that because his party is out of power in Congress … but there’s a big space between acting unilaterally and coming up with some compromise legislation,’’ she said.

Carla Marinucci is San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer. E-mail: Twitter @cmarinucci

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Immigrant rights groups undeterred in wake of Texas court ruling
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