In November 2014 when President Barack Obama unveiled his executive action on immigration amid congressional gridlock, Bryan Martinez says he was relieved that the federal government planned to protect him from deportation.
“The feeling was amazing because for so long people have said we have to do something about immigration, but they never did anything,” said Martinez. “For me, it was a 'Thank you Obama' moment because it was an [opportunity] for me."
But Martinez’s fate, and that of millions like him, was put on hold — at least for now. At a news conference in Austin Thursday afternoon, he joined dozens of other immigration reform advocates to denounce that morning's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately thwarted Obama’s executive order, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
The plan sought to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants — including some 1.46 million in Texas — from deportation and allow immigrants to obtain working permits if they have lived in the country for more than five years, passed background checks and paid fines.
The high court's 4-4 vote ultimately leaves a lower court's injunction against the executive order in place and ends any chance for it to be implemented before Obama leaves office, according to legal experts. It also blocked Obama's effort to expand a 2012 program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
For Martinez, who traveled across the U.S.-Mexico border to Texas in 2009 with his brother, the ruling meant he and other undocumented Texans need to remain resolute.
“The fight is not over,” said Martinez. “We have to push and make them hear what we want to make them hear. We will keep fighting for a better future.”
Yet DAPA applicants such as Maria Lopez, who moved from Mexico to Texas 10 years ago with her now 13-year-old son, feel deflated.
“I was excited to feel that I would finally be able to come out of the shadows," Lopez said through a translator. "But I am feeling very sad. I’m heartbroken because today we were failed. My [three] children are in fear because they are afraid that we can get separated anyway.”
Advocates Thursday spoke of the need to engage voters on the issue so they understand what's at stake in the upcoming elections.
"Although I know this is a disappointing ruling, it's not the end," said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. "But what this ruling means is that the election in November is crucial when it comes to immigration issues. It's one of the most critical election years. So register to vote if you can, and people you know — get them out. I know we're down, but the fight continues."
Carlos González Gutiérrez, the Mexican consul in Austin, told reporters that the Mexican government "regrets" the Supreme Court's decision. He said an approval by the court of Obama's executive orders "would have been a recognition of the positive impact the millions of Mexican immigrants have on the social fabric of this society and the economic growth of this country."