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As ruling nears, immigrant fights for anti-deportation act

NEW YORK — A Mexican immigrant fighting President Donald Trump’s attempt to end a program shielding young immigrants from deportation says he is nervous about the case finally being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Martín Batalla Vidal is a lead plaintiff in one of the cases to preserve the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and has seen his name splashed in legal documents since 2016, when he first sued in New York.

The 29-year-old certified nursing assistant at a rehabilitation clinic for traumatic brain injury in Queens, New York, has described the legal journey since then as stressful, with people sending him hateful messages. He has had to sacrifice days at work so he could go to protests, press conferences and meetings with attorneys.

Even with his worries, Batalla Vidal is hopeful immigrants like him will be able to stay in the country.

“I don’t know what is going to happen,” said Batalla Vidal, who lives with his mother, two brothers and a dog in an apartment at the border of Queens and Brooklyn. “Whatever the outcome is, we know that we have fought hard for it and we will continue fighting. I am trying to be positive.”

The nation’s highest court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case Tuesday.

The program protects about 700,000 people, often called “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families that overstayed visas.

With the attempted elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, there was renewed pressure in Congress to pass the DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, a series of never-passed proposals to protect young immigrants vulnerable to deportation. Opponents say the law rewards people for breaking the law, encourages illegal immigration and hurts American workers.

Trump ordered an end to DACA in 2017, but federal courts in different states, including New York because of Batalla Vidal’s lawsuit, blocked him from ending it immediately.

The protections remain in effect at least until the U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision, which will likely be in 2020. Participants of the program can renew their status, but no new applicants can sign up.

The Obama administration created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012 to provide social security numbers, work permits and protection from deportation to people who, in many cases, have no memory of any home other than the U.S.

The Trump administration argues that the program is unlawful because former President Barack Obama did not have the authority to adopt it in the first place.

Batalla Vidal initially sued when a federal court in a separate case ruled that DACA permits could not be extended for a third year, as the Obama administration wanted. Now he’s part of the legal fight over the program’s very existence.

When Trump ordered the termination of the program, lawyers for Batalla Vidal amended his original lawsuit to fight the termination and added more individual plaintiffs.

A federal judge ruled in their favor. The U.S. Supreme Court in June agreed to hear the administration’s appeal of Batalla Vidal’s and other cases from around the country.

On Monday, Batalla Vidal planned to arrive to Washington on a bus with his mother to join representatives from colleges, civil rights groups, Democratic-led states and individuals who also sued. On Tuesday, he will sit at the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments.

“Nobody thought we would get this far,” he said after speaking last week in a conference at LaGuardia Community College, where he studies criminal justice as an undergraduate student. “I have my family, my community, which has had my back since day one.”

Batalla Vidal crossed the Mexico border when he was 7 years old with his mother and a brother. He has two other brothers who are U.S. citizens.

After going to high school in Brooklyn, he said he worked making deliveries at a deli and later at a gym to save for college, and later on to support his single mother who has thyroid and osteoarthritis.

Batalla Vidal also joined Make the Road New York, a nonprofit group that defends immigrant rights. Lawyers from the organization, along with the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic of Yale Law School and the National Immigration Law Center filed the 2016 lawsuit.

“His bravery and commitment to justice for our communities throughout this legal fight have been admirable and captured the attention of people all over, thousands of whom sent him messages of support after he received hate-filled messages for suing Trump,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Martín is fighting for the freedom to thrive and be himself in this country, which is his home.”

City implements updated public nudity ordinance

People wore many layers Monday with the temperature not escaping the 20s, but in a warmer future, they could be topless.

Sunday marked the first day of the city’s updated public nudity ordinance, which removed female toplessness from the definition of nudity.

The Manhattan City Commission gave final approval to the updated ordinance on Nov. 5.

However, city officials have cautioned that the updated ordinance isn’t the same as “legalizing” female toplessness, which implies that a public display does not violate any law.

Property owners and businesses still retain the right to require all patrons to wear shirts. The government could still prosecute if, for example, a woman without a shirt was acting in a lewd manner, which is against state law, said city attorney Katie Jackson.

City administrators requested this action from the commission to avoid potential lawsuits after a civil lawsuit in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is covered by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals along with Kansas. Fort Collins settled the case, but not before the court said it likely would find the ordinance unconstitutional.

“This is an evolving area of the law, and we may have more guidance from federal or state courts in the next several months,” Jackson said.

According to city officials, Manhattan has prosecuted 51 cases of public nudity since 2003. Of those, 37 defendants were males exposing their genitalia. Of the 14 female defendants, six were cited for toplessness, which occurred between 2004 and 2010.

As a reminder, bottomlessness — the exposure of genitalia or buttocks — remains a no-no in Manhattan, regardless of gender.

Snow not a problem for Veterans Day parade attendees

With American flags in hand and blankets wrapped around them, about 200 people lined the streets and braved cold temperatures and a wintry mix to honor the nation’s veterans at the annual Veterans Day parade Monday in downtown Manhattan.

Students from the Manhattan-Ogden and Junction City school districts and Manhattan Catholic Schools paraded along in buses — some displaying handmade red and blue posters thanking veterans — while motorcyclists, fire trucks and other vehicles made their way from 4th Street to 14th Street along Poyntz Avenue.

Fort Riley soldiers passed out flags and dog tags to attendees as they watched the parade move along the blanket of snow on the street.

The Flint Hills Veterans Coalition sponsored the parade. According to its website, Manhattan’s celebration is the state of Kansas’ “largest celebration of service.”

Parade attendees like 96-year-old Harold E. Nelson, who served in World War II from March 1943 until the end of the war, and his daughter, Anita Nelson Wiley, enjoy seeing patriotism displayed in parades like this one.

“I think it’s just important to remember the history,” Nelson said.

“Why we have it today, it’s the eleventh month, eleventh day and eleventh hour,” he continued. “That’s the date that World War I ended. I don’t think most people know that.”

Nelson, originally from McPherson, served as a tail gunner in a B-17 plane while stationed in Italy during World War II. He also is a retired Methodist minister.

Wiley said it is great that so many people come out to support the veterans.

“We just enjoy seeing all the ones that do fare the weather and come out and celebrate all of our veterans and all our current soldiers,” she said. “I always feel bad that the little kids don’t get to walk because it’s cold.”

In addition to Nelson, his brothers and other family members served in some capacity, some in the Navy, Wiley said.

“Military, can’t say enough about them,” Wiley said.

This year while bundled up in Kansas State University gear and blankets, Nelson said this is the coldest parade he’s ever attended. He’s seen the last four parades in Manhattan.

“This is about the worst,” Nelson said about the weather.

With the temperature hovering around 20 degrees at the start of the parade, attendees were braving a wind chill of around 7 degrees during the parade.

“But we weren’t going to miss it,” Wiley said. “It’s like, ‘We’ll back in; if we have to get back in the car, we will.’”

After journey, VFW commander Dan Watkins hopes to build up post

Like many other Native Americans, Manhattan Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1786 commander Dan Watkins doesn’t say “Thank you for your service” to veterans returning from deployment.

Instead, he says “welcome home.”

It’s a Native American tradition steeped in the ancestral values of balance, community and finding your way back to it, and healing. And it’s those values that Watkins, 55, himself has lived in his journey back to Manhattan.

The post commander, originally from Nebraska, moved to Manhattan as a junior in high school in 1981 and graduated from Manhattan High School the next year, after which he joined the Army and served as a combat medic in the Gulf War before retiring from service with a back injury in 1994. For 20 years, Watkins worked as a paramedic in Missouri, until a catastrophic knee injury forced him to medically retire.

“I went down a bad road that a lot of people with depression do,” Watkins said. “I joined the VFW in my local town, Farmington, Missouri, Post 5896. I called the commander there, and his name was Tom. He’s a Vietnam veteran, and he told me to come out, and they’d find something for me to do.”

Like a lot of VFWs across the nation, the Missouri post had seen declining membership, and Watkins said the post didn’t have a lot of involvement and wasn’t really doing anything.

But Watkins found a role in the post, starting as a public relations officer and working his way up to commander there. In those roles, he helped connect veterans and their families with the sources they needed.

“My VFW experience is that the VFW saved my life,” Watkins said. “Hands down, I can’t deny that, and that’s part of who I am, after having been a paramedic for all those years. It’s giving back to all those veterans and letting them and their families know that we’re there for them.”

A year ago, Watkins’ son called him and suggested he move back to Kansas, so he did.

“I came to Manhattan last year, and I went to my first meeting during election time,” Watkins said. “The commander at the time, Lewis Smith, asked if anyone wanted to be commander. I stood up and told my story, and I’m now in my second year as commander.”

One of his first initiatives was to build the post back up to become a community pillar for veterans. To do that, he set his eyes on the All-State award from the VFW Department of Kansas, which required the post to meet several requirements such as advancing award entries — like the post’s participants in the nationwide Voice of Democracy essay contest — to district-level competitions, presenting certain programs and helping with community service projects.

The post hadn’t won that award since 1996, but under Watkins’ leadership, Manhattan VFW Post 1786 was one of only 19 posts out of 114 to receive the award for the 2018-19 cycle.

“When I took over as commander, I said we’re going to do this, and everybody said that we couldn’t because nobody could even remember the last time we’d done it,” Watkins said. “To me, it’s a very prestigious honor, because we’ve brought it back up.”

In September, the post’s work led to the city of Manhattan being recognized as the first POW/MIA city in Kansas. The honor, which is bestowed by the POW/MIA Museum at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, recognizes the city and post’s efforts to recognize prisoners of war or veterans who went missing in action.

Watkins credited the work of his officers and membership in building the post back up.

“My staff and officers are phenomenal,” Watkins said. “We’ve put the post back on the map. It’s the perfect sized city, because there’s always something going on.”

With that first goal now accomplished, Watkins said his next goal is to also build the post back up, but perhaps more literally. The post, which lost its building on South Fourth Street a few years ago, now meets at First Free Methodist Church on Poyntz Avenue, and Watkins said he envisions a day when the post has its own space again.

That will take time, effort and money, of course, but Watkins said the goal is to find the right place to create a community where veterans under 40 would want to take their families.

“(We want) for them to be able to go somewhere where there isn’t alcohol or things like pool, but a place where they can bring their families and have a good time and support the community,” Watkins said. “We could have loud music and concerts and stuff like that.

“That’s my goal, but the bigger goal has been achieved, and that’s having people recognize the post,” Watkins continued. “People are saying, ‘That post in Manhattan is something to look at.’”

Although he isn’t paid for the volunteer position, Watkins said he’s enjoyed performing what amounts to a full-time job as post commander.

Some days, he works directly with families, like when he helped the wife of a deployed soldier fix her car.

Other days, he leads veteran recognition efforts — on Friday, he and members of other veteran community groups planted flags at the Kansas Veterans Cemetery at Fort Riley. For years, the flag planting was inconsistent, but Watkins vowed to make the project a consistent one for the post, not only on Veterans Day but Memorial Day as well.

Crystal Owen, Watkins’ cousin and a military spouse, said she’s enjoyed having Watkins back in the area.

“He’s a constant, not only for me, but for everyone,” she said. “He’s someone you can rely on and count on being there.”

More than anything, Watkins’ background as a retired paramedic, veteran and current massage therapist allows him to connect to soldiers, especially when they might need help to heal, he said.

“I now have a completely different concept of broken,” Watkins said. “Especially with veterans or active duty soldiers going through troubled times. I understand that, because I’ve been there too. I’ve seen those problems, and I’ve lived them, and I understand them.”

And even in his “retirement,” Watkins said he’s come to love the post commander position and all of its day-to-day duties.

“It keeps me busy,” he says with a laugh. “This is my home. It took me 36 years to come back, but it’s home.”