BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Don’t lose hope – this was the message put out Tuesday by La Unión del Pueblo Entero in response to a federal judge’s ruling that puts a temporary hold on President Obama’s immigration plans.

LUPE’s position was articulated by community activist Tania Chavez at a news conference held outside the federal courthouse from which Judge Andrew S. Hanen announced his injunction against deferred action.

Tania Chavez, community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero.
Tania Chavez, community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

“Don’t freak out, this is just temporary. The program will happen. You need to get prepared. You need to get your documents ready – anything that says that you have lived in the United States since 2010 until the present time. And, continue collecting evidence until the time we are eligible to apply for DAPA of the extended DACA,” Chavez said.

DAPA stands for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“I want to invite everyone in the community, the city governments, the school districts, our university presidents to continue encouraging the community to not lose hope, to continue encouraging the community to get their documents prepared,” Chavez said.

Chavez said LUPE and other community groups in the Rio Grande Valley will continue to hold orientation meetings so that undocumented immigrants can learn what their rights are.

President Obama’s executive action waived deportation for four to five million people. DACA applies to undocumented residents brought to the U.S. as children. DAPA applies to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. Sign ups for expanded DACA waivers were supposed to start on Wednesday, with DAPA waivers expected to start in May.

However, Judge Hanen’s ruling put a halt to this. Hanen said the Obama administration’s actions were “a massive change in immigration practice.” He said Obama’s executive orders “should have undergone the notice and comment procedure.” The public notice and comment period lasts for 90 days.  Twenty six states filed a lawsuit against Obama’s executive order in Hanen’s court. The effort was led by then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

On Tuesday, Obama said the Justice Department would appeal Judge Hanen’s ruling.

The news conference in Brownsville was hosted by local immigration attorneys and the RGV Equal Voice Network. LUPE is a member of Equal Voice. Colonia community groups made a lot of noise at the news conference; criticizing Judge Hanen’s ruling and promising to stay unified in support of comprehensive immigration reform and deferred action.

Interviewed after the news conference by the Rio Grande Guardian and NewsChannel 23 KVEO, Chavez was asked what her reaction was when she heard news of Hanen’s ruling.

“I was a little surprised and I knew that we needed to react very quickly to make sure our people did not get scared. I was afraid that our community would shy away from applying in the future. I knew the decision was not final but I knew that we needed to warn our community and we needed to continue educating them,” Chavez said.

Chavez said she immediately sent an email to LUPE’s leadership team calling for an agreed plan of action. The plan agreed upon included the news conference in Brownsville.

“This (Hanen’s ruling) is merely a pause in the process and they are giving us a break to give us more time to gather our documents. I do not want the community to view this as a failure. I want the community to see this as an opportunity to continue to gather their documents,” Chavez said in her interview.

“Anything that says you were here before 2010 or that you have a relationship with a U.S. child. With expanded DACA, anything that shows continued study or anything that proves you arrived in this country under the age of 16 and before 2010. That is what you can do.”

Chavez said LUPE’s immigration orientation sessions take place every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the group’s headquarters in San Juan. Asked to reiterate her message to the Valley’s immigrant community, Chavez said: “Do not lose hope. The fight continues. Don’t freak out. If we lose hope we stop fighting and if we lose hope we stop getting ready and I want our community that we will be victorious.”

But how can the immigrant community have hope when they see Gov. Greg Abbott or Attorney General Ken Paxton on television rejoicing Judge Hanen’s ruling, Chavez was asked.

“This decision is not final. It will go to the 5th Circuit Court. President Obama did not make this announcement without knowing the law. Other presidents have done this (executive action) before,” Chavez said.

But statewide leaders are happy with Hanen’s ruling and LUPE is not, a reporter stated. “It is all a political game and we want the community to know that that is what it is. It is merely a political game to them (statewide leaders). They want to have control and we are not going to let them,” Chavez responded.

Earlier in the day, LUPE leaders said they wanted to clarify comments made before Judge Hanen’s ruling by their immigration attorney, Debbie Cruz. Cruz had told the Rio Grande Guardian that undocumented immigrants were “excited” but “skeptical” about Obama’s executive orders.

“That’s not our perception any more. We have had a very positive response to the President’s plan,” said LUPE communication director John-Michael Torres. “Since January we have had weekly orientations in our Alton and San Juan offices filled with community members eager to learn more. We have had constant engagement online and our Facebook page is filled with questions about the application process. Our leaders are spreading the news and helping people prepare to apply. We know the Valley will be ready to apply once they are allowed to do so.”

Torres said rumors of Hanen’s likely ruling began circulating a week ago. He said these LUPE statements had been issued in response:

“Immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley are moving forward regardless of today’s ruling,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, LUPE’s executive director. “Our community will continue getting ready for the deferred action programs that will give thousands of Valley residents the chance to live, work, and stay in America with their families.”

Martha Sanchez, LUPE’s coordinator of community organizing said: “This lawsuit is just a political stunt by anti-immigrant attorneys general and governors, led Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and is meant to scare away our community members from applying for DACA/DAPA. Our community fought hard for this victory, and we’re not going to let anyone take it away from us. Along with our partners in the RGV Equal Voice Network, we’re still fighting for a permanent solution that includes a path to citizenship for all 11 million.”

LUPE attorney Cruz added: “This is just the first round in a long, drawn out legal process. Hundreds of legal scholars agree that the President’s executive action on immigration are constitutional and within his authority. We are confident that the court system will eventually reject this merit-less lawsuit that disenfranchises immigrant workers and families, and robs much needed revenue from state economies.”