Arkansans await immigration case

Norma Contreras wanted to see her father before he died, but didn't dare risk not seeing her children again afterward.


http://www.arkansas…">History, politics power immigration fight as deportations continue

"If I'd gone to see him, I wouldn't be allowed back," Contreras said in a telephone interview. She came into the country illegally 18 years ago, she said.

"My children grew up here. They don't know any other country," Contreras said. "If I had gone back to see my father, I could have been stopped at the border, and I never would have seen them again."

Contreras, 45, of Bentonville is one of an estimated 5 million people in America who would benefit from a guarantee against deportation and offer of work permits made available by executive order of President Barack Obama in 2014.

The number of potential beneficiaries living in Arkansas is estimated to be about 26,000, said Mireya Reith. Reith is a supporter of the order and executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, which assists immigrants.

Congress never voted on nor approved the president's action. Arkansas is one of 26 states challenging the constitutionality of it. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's injunction against implementing the order. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this month that the president's action is an overreach of the his powers. A ruling is expected in June.

The president's order would apply only to immigrants who are parents of legal U.S. residents. Only applicants who have regularly paid their taxes and have committed no crimes would be considered.

"It is very important that people know that this is not a debate on immigration policy, but a question of whether the president has the authority to do what he's done," state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday in a telephone interview.

"The Constitution does not give the president any extra authority when Congress has not acted or has not acted in a way that the president agrees with," Rutledge said.

Article 2, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." That does not give the president the power to, in effect, change the law by declaring any number of people exempt from it, she said.

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia leaves an even number of justices on the court. That gives the potential for a tie decision. Both Rutledge and Reith said a tie decision would leave the 5th Circuit's ruling in place, but both said they were glad the case was coming to a ruling.

"Scalia was never going to be one of our votes anyway," Reith said.

Reith is one of the organizers of a group that plans to send at least 52 Arkansas residents to Washington, D.C. to participate in a demonstration in favor of allowing the executive order. The group will join similar groups from the other states.

Contreras came across the border without authorization 18 years ago to Los Angeles. After her second, youngest child was born 16 years ago, Contreras and their father, a U.S. citizen, split up. She learned English and then went to went to work full time. She has worked at least two jobs since, she said.

Contreras lived in Los Angeles for 15 years before coming to Bentonville in search of a "smaller town where my kids will be safer," she said. She works at a daycare and has a sideline business baking cakes, she said.

Being the child of parents who can be deported at any time always leaves you anxious, said Kimberly Flores of Waldron, a student at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

"My parents got pulled over because they bought a new car, and the temporary, paper license on the back wasn't taped down well," Flores said. "It was flapping in the air, and the policeman couldn't see if it was valid or not.

"The frightening thing wasn't getting pulled over. I wasn't even in the car when it happened," she said. "The frightening thing is that my parents don't speak English very well and rely on us, the kids, to translate. We weren't there. One wrong word, one statement taken the wrong way, and they could have been in trouble. That's what really upset me when I found out. My parents work very hard, and they can't get jobs indoors in an office. They'd be able to get better jobs if they could get into this program and that would be great, but the biggest thing is that we wouldn't be afraid all the time."

Contreras agreed.

"The main thing would be to not be in fear of being deported," she said.

That would be the biggest change in her day to day life.

"When I go out driving, if I see a police car, I'm always afraid they'll pull me over and find out," Contreras said. "It's happened, but when they find out I don't have a criminal record, they don't arrest me and let me go. But there's always the fear of not knowing what's going to happen.

"About 10 years ago, I was pulled over and the police put handcuffs on me while my children were in the car. They're crying and I'm trying to be strong, to tell them it's all going to be OK, but not really knowing."

She has no doubt she would qualify under the executive order, Contreras said.

"I have proof I've been paying my taxes. I've kept records.

"I know a lot of people in the same situation," she said. "We are hard-working people. There are some who do abuse the system, but what the president's order would cover are people paying their taxes with no criminal record. He's choosing the people who benefit the country."

NW News on 04/03/2016

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