Advocates for immigrants cheered the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to review President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, raising hopes that the high court will clear the way for millions of immigrants here illegally to apply for work permits this year, including thousands in Massachusetts.
Federal courts halted the 2014 orders before the Obama administration could issue work permits to more than 4 million immigrants, less than half the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally. An estimated 65,000 immigrants in Massachusetts would qualify for the programs. The court is expected to issue a decision in June.
“We’re very happy,” said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a nonprofit based in East Boston. “We’ve fought a long time for this.”
Even if the Obama administration prevails, advocates conceded that immigrants will have little time to apply before he leaves office at the end of the year. And immigrants who apply face an uncertain future depending upon who is elected president in November. Democrats have vowed to continue Obama’s efforts, but many Republicans said they will not, putting immigrants at risk of deportation.
“It depends who’s going to win. That’s what it comes down to,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, a statewide umbrella group of immigrant organizations.
Still, advocates, politicians, and tech leaders savored the Supreme Court’s decision as a rare step forward on immigration, according to statements released by FWD.us, a nonprofit founded by technology leaders that supports immigration reform.
“Our communities are stronger, more vibrant, and more prosperous when we choose the path of inclusion — that is why I support the president’s executive actions on immigration,” said Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim. He authored the Trust Act, which limited Boston police’s cooperation with immigration officials in a city where over 26 percent of the residents are foreign born.
Alejandra St. Guillen, director of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, added, “Thousands of Bostonians and millions of people throughout the United States who are already part of our communities have already waited far too long for relief, as limited as it would be.”
Obama’s programs are temporary and would not create a path to citizenship. The programs grant work permits and Social Security numbers to the parents of American citizens and legal residents, as well as certain immigrants who were brought here as children.
Now with renewed hopes, advocates are urging immigrants who qualify to gather records they’ll need to apply quickly in case the Supreme Court rules in their favor.
Advocates also warned immigrants to ignore scam artists who say it is safe to apply now.
The timing of the Supreme Court’s review is likely to make immigration an even bigger wedge issue in the presidential elections.
Some immigrants say they would be wary of coming forward, since some GOP candidates have vowed to deport those here illegally. The GOP front-runner, Donald Trump, said in June that he would “immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration, immediately.”
Elmaati Hachani, a Muslim from Morocco who overstayed his visa in 1996, voluntarily registered with the US government through a controversial program set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Immigration officials later jailed him, though he had no criminal record.
Now he could qualify for one of Obama’s programs, since his college-bound son is American. He said he is hopeful and worried at the same time.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Hachani’s lawyer, Jeffrey Rubin, said he would urge him and others to apply, saying it is unlikely that even a hard-line president could round up millions of immigrants with work permits.
“Opportunities like this don’t often come around,” Rubin said. “Sometimes it can be years and even decades before something like this will happen again.”