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Texas Court Ruling Leaves Undocumented Immigrants In Legal Limbo


Thanks for joining us on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED coming to you from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. And we're going to cover a lot of territory this hour taking you from the Port of Los Angeles to the edge of interstellar space. And if you love blues, rock or pretty much any American music, you've got to hear our exploration of the blues man Lead Belly. He was a twice-convicted murderer who became a star, and the full Lead Belly story is even more interesting.

We start off today with some twists and turns in the ongoing debate over immigration. The White House announced yesterday that the Department of Justice will seek an emergency stay of a court ruling that blocked the president's executive action on immigration. That ruling came from a federal judge in Texas. For now, it leaves millions of people who are here illegally in a legal limbo, and along with their advocates, they're trying to figure out their next moves. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Juan Ramos came to the United States in 2008 when he was 15 years old to reunite with his family and get away from menacing gangs in his native El Salvador. Sitting in a Starbucks in Charlotte, he says good grades earned him admission to five colleges, but he couldn't afford any of them.

JUAN RAMOS: Since in here in North Carolina, I didn't really have the opportunity to go back to school because we don't have in-state tuition for undocumented students.

GONZALES: Still, his ambition, says Ramos, is to become an architect and build his parents a home. But that dream took another hit this week in the Texas ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen. He ruled that the Obama administration can't offer immigrants like Ramos temporary protection from deportation and a work permit.

RAMOS: When I found out about the ruling, I think I was a little bit frustrated just because of the fact that I have been in this movement for about four years now.

GONZALES: Ramos is active with United We Dream, a national group of young immigrants brought here as children.

RAMOS: But at the same time, there was this, like, empowerment as well, that, like, wanting to keep going just because that I know it's not just about myself, but it's also, like, about 5 million undocumented people who will benefit from this.

GONZALES: No one knows how the legal battle over the president's executive action will play out. Immigrant advocates around the country worry that the delay might demobilize their campaign for deportation protection. So they're redoubling their effort to get the word out that the Texas ruling is only a temporary setback.

For example, in Oakland, Calif., yesterday about 40 people representing a wide range of legal service groups, labor and nonprofits met to discuss the impact of the Texas ruling.

CHRISTOPHER MARTINEZ: One of the things that we want to talk about when we break up into our groups is defending the program.

GONZALES: Christopher Martinez is legal services director for Catholic Charities of the East Bay. He says it's critical to keep encouraging people to collect their documents and prepare for the day when they can apply for protection.

MARTINEZ: I think it's really important that we continue planning because the community needs to know that we're on their side. Otherwise, if we stop, then the community is going to stop caring about this.

GONZALES: The group's discussion ranges from leafleting at laundromats to posting notices at libraries and schools. In one small group, advocates share stories about what they're hearing on the ground among immigrants. Patricia Flores is a community organizer with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

PATRICIA FLORES: One of the people said - he was, like, I know that this is just temporary. I know Obama is going to see us through. So I think that they're all really confident, and they have a lot more faith in the - you know, in Obama than they did before. You know, they want to keep on fighting for it.

GONZALES: Yet for now, the fight over Mr. Obama's executive action on immigration is primarily in the courts where the president's opponents welcome an indefinite delay. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.