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Supreme Court ruling could put immigrants deeper into shadows

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Rosario Reyes, an undocumented mother from El Salvador, reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision blocking President Obama's immigration plan, which would have protected millions of immigrants from deportation.
Rosario Reyes, an undocumented mother from El Salvador, reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision blocking President Obama's immigration plan, which would have protected millions of immigrants from deportation.Allison Shelley

Thursday, in the United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court decided, by a tied vote, to uphold the decision of the lower courts, blocking President Obama’s administrative actions on immigration and placing the futures of more than 5 million immigrants in limbo. This decision is a giant setback for the nation.

For nearly 15 years I have been studying the effects of long-term life in the shadows. The links between undocumented status and present and future outcomes are irrefutably and overwhelmingly negative for immigrant families and the community at large. Life narrowly circumscribed by legal limitations enacts a physical, emotional, and financial toll. Work options are limited to unstable, dangerous jobs, and many people experience health problems as a result. Chronic back pain and joint aches are just a couple of symptoms of this unhealthy system. Depressed wages create financial hardships that ripple across families, communities, and our nation's economy. Children bear the biggest burden. Housing and food security go hand-in-hand with limited economic means. And when parents are ripped away without warning, children experience severe emotional trauma.

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With the Supreme Court ruling, immigrants and their families risk being driven deeper into the shadows, fearful of a growing deportation regime that has banished nearly three million immigrants during Obama's presidency alone. The seeds of fear and distrust of authorities make immigrants vulnerable to workplace and wage abuses and increase their likelihood to become victims of crime. When parents live in the shadows it curbs children's access to health care and critical services. About 85 percent of all children with parents who would have been eligible for deferred action are US citizens who are otherwise entitled to these programs.

While this decision is bad for families, it is disastrous for this nation. Enforcement programs that have separated immigrants from their families, neighbors, and employers have had negative economic, social, and psychological consequences across entire communities. Nearly 70 percent of the eligible population has lived in the United States for at least 10 years, and one quarter for at least 20. They are long-term stayers who have deep roots in communities across the country.

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Thursday's ruling will have deep and wide implications for the immigrant community and the broader American public.

America faces some challenging questions that speak to the core of who we are as a nation: Can we afford to close our doors on those who have given so much to our country? And what do we stand to lose by leaving them out?


Roberto G. Gonzales is assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of "Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America.''