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Why California leaders want to keep undocumented immigrants

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Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

(Read caption) People hold signs as they gather outside a Federal Building while protesting against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on Central American refugees in Los Angeles, California January 26, 2016.

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A group of California leaders had a message for the Supreme Court Tuesday: unfreeze President Obama's executive action that could give “legal presence” to up to half of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Citing both economic benefits and community values, the group of California civic, educational, business, and religious leaders say President Obama’s stalled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program is good for their state and the country. The program was halted by an induction in 2015 while a lawsuit challenging its legality proceeds.

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“Within our ‘nation of immigrants,’ California embodies the immigrant experience more than any other State,” the leaders write in their brief. “More than a quarter of the Nation’s immigrant population resides in California, and more than forty percent of California’s population consists of immigrants and their children.” 

And along with about 25 percent of the legal immigrant population, California is also home to roughly a quarter of the country’s undocumented immigrants. The group estimates this population to be 2.9 million people – more than seven percent of the state’s entire population. 

“Representing just 7% of the state’s population, [they] make up 34% of its farm workers, 22% of its production workers and 21% of its construction workers according to one estimate,” the group wrote in their friend-of-the court brief. “Today, the undocumented workforce alone contributes $130 billion to California’s gross domestic product (GDP) – an amount larger than the entire respective GDPs of 19 other states.” 

Fifteen organizations and businesses signed onto the brief, including the California Hotel and Lodging Association, the California Restaurant Association, Driscoll’s Berries, Sierra Orchards, and California Farm Labor Contractor Association. 

Signatories say that DAPA’s implementation would secure the current economic benefits from the state’s undocumented workforce and ensure further growth. According to the brief, DAPA would create 130,000 new jobs in the state and increase the collective wages of California’s undocumented immigrants by $5.5 billion annually. 

And they hold that DAPA is important for community, as well. 

“It’s easy to get caught up in the white-hot political debate over this issue,” Jot Condie, chief executive of the California Restaurant Association, tells the Los Angeles Times. “But for us, this simply comes down to people – our fellow churchgoers, classmates, neighbors and hard-working individuals. Millions of loving families hang in the balance.” 

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The brief was signed by Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California, as well as the chancellors from all 10 campuses. 

Another amicus brief was filed Tuesday in the case United States v. Texas by over 100 US mayors, led by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Birmingham Mayor William Bell, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler. 

“I urge the Supreme Court to rule in favor of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, and uphold the ideals that have made this nation so great,” says Mayor Garcetti. “This City was build by immigrants and thrives because of its diversity. It is the most global city in the world.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, along with 223 additional Congressional Democrats, filed their own amicus brief before the Supreme Court Tuesday that defends the legality of President Obama’s proposed immigration policy.

“By and large, we are a nation of immigrants and the vast majority of families who would benefit from these programs include American citizens,” Leader Pelosi and Senator Reid add in their joint statement. “We should embrace their contributions.” 

But there has also been substantial opposition to DAPA. Texas and 25 other Republican dominated states filed suit over DAPA in early 2015, arguing that Obama's executive action is outside of his constitutional authority. By initiating DAPA, say these Republican opponents, the President unlawfully granted amnesty to over four million illegal immigrants.  

A judge agreed that the president’s initiative was illegal and froze the program. Obama’s lawyers have appealed and the eight-justice Supreme Court will hear arguments on United States v. Texas on April 18.