Undocumented Immigrants Cautious After Court Ruling

 

Whether to speak out or stay hidden has long been a quandary for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The court ruling on Thursday is amplifying that angst as immigrants wonder how aggressively they can push for change, or just lead normal lives, when one wrong move could mean a one-way trip to the country they left.

“It’s hard for the community,” Eliana Fernandez said. “They were thinking their life was going to be different, they could come out of the shadows, but now it’s like, ‘Sorry.’”

Ms. Fernandez, 28, is an immigrant from Ecuador and a case manager for Make the Road New York, an advocacy group. On Friday, she attended a protest in Lower Manhattan against the deadlocked court’s ruling.

“When you have a lot at stake,” Ms. Fernandez said, “it takes a lot of guts to go out and say, ‘I’m undocumented.’”

For younger immigrants, who grew up as states like Arizona were enacting hard-edge policies to crack down on illegal immigration, visibility remains the best strategy. They say that stepping out of the shadows and speaking publicly is a way to humanize their plight and counter the arguments that they are dangerous or a drain on the United States.

It was the strategy that activists used four years ago to persuade the Obama administration to allow young people without documents to live and work legally in the country if they met certain age restrictions and had lived continuously in the United States for at least five years when the program took effect.

“I can’t sit in silence,” said Ms. Ruiz, 31, who is the president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a group that campaigns for immigrants’ rights and education, and the mother of three children born in the United States.

“Politicians don’t have our backs, so I have to fight,” she said. “This is my life.”

For other immigrants, Thursday’s ruling was a stark reminder of the fragility of their situation. The Obama administration would have protected from deportation at least four million parents who are undocumented but whose children are legal residents or American citizens. Now, even though President Obama made clear after the court’s decision that deporting these parents would not be a priority, fear lingers and a presidential campaign looms.