If Courts Halt Immigration Action, Los Angeles Will Keep Going

"We're going to move forward," says Mayor Eric Garcetti, of the city's commitment to helping undocumented residents gain legal status.

Even if a court decision stops the federal government from moving forward on President Obama's latest executive action on immigration, the city of Los Angeles will keep doing everything it can to help undocumented residents gain legal status.

"We're going to move forward. We can't afford not to," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday at a National Journal event in Washington, D.C., presented with support from Emerson Collective.

Twenty-five states are suing the Obama administration over a November 2014 executive action that expanded the number of people who qualify for deferred immigration action. The action created a new program that could make more than four million undocumented parents of United States citizens and legal permanent residents eligible for work permits and relief from deportation. The president also expanded an existing deferred action program for individuals brought to the U.S. as children.

A court order could stop the federal government from processing applications for the new programs. Just last week, House Republicans voted to de-fund Obama's executive actions on immigration. Garcetti said the legal uncertainty could have a "chilling effect" on people's willingness to apply for deferred action, or even for citizenship.

Garcetti, who is a Democrat, said that Republican and Democratic mayors alike know that bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows boosts economic development and improves public safety. Los Angeles is hoping to join other cities in filing an amicus brief in support of the executive action.

There are about a half million people in Los Angeles who could be eligible for work permits and deportation relief through the new and expanded deferred action programs. Obama's executive action could give the city economy a $3 billion boost, Garcetti said, by helping workers access jobs, obtain financial aid for higher education, and even start businesses.

Los Angeles is part of a coalition called Cities for Citizenship that's trying to help more eligible U.S. residents become citizens. The city has also been training librarians to help people fill out immigration paperwork and working with public school teachers, administrators, and students to identify students and families who might be eligible for deferred action.

Garcetti said he couldn't think of a downside to helping undocumented residents gain legal status. "People are working anyway, people are here anyway," he said. "The Department of Education requires that we educate folks here who are undocumented anyway."

He likened the fight over immigration to the fight over gay marriage. "I do feel that we're on the right side of history," he said.