Supreme Court Stalemates on Immigration

SCOTUS tied on ImmigrationIn a 4-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) stalemated on a ruling that keeps in place an injunction of President Obama’s executive orders on deferred action for undocumented immigrants. The injunction prevents implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) while a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the executive order, brought by Texas and 25 other states, moves forward.

For immigration advocates, the tie decision is at least a momentary setback as the president’s executive order on DAPA seemed to act as a strong ray of hope for the cause. With the decision, undocumented immigrants who find themselves caught up in the legal system can still face life-altering consequences with possible deportation.  

The president announced the DAPA deferred action program in November 2014. His executive action granted temporary deportation relief and three-year work permit eligibility to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years when their children are either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

DAPA is associated with the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which came into play with a 2012 executive order. In 2014, the president extended the 2012 DACA program and introduced DAPA. Presumably, the two programs cover a majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently estimated to be living in the United States.

The SCOTUS decision doesn’t rule on the constitutionality of DAPA or of executive power. The tie effectively amounts to no decision from the Supreme Court. This puts the previous injunction ruling, made by a federal appellate court, as the standing decision.

While the decision deals a blow to many in the immigration community, President Obama responded to news of the case result with assurances that the “unfortunate” decision shouldn’t be viewed as a segue to mass round ups, according to a published report.

“We prioritize criminals. We prioritize gang-bangers. We prioritize folks who have just come in,” the president said. “What we don’t do is to prioritize people who have been here a long time who are otherwise law abiding, who have roots and connections in their communities. Those enforcement priorities will continue.”

The case outcome highlights the death of Judge Antonin Scalia, a steadfast conservative on the court who passed away unexpectedly in the spring. While a judicial appointment to the court would alleviate the stalemate, President Obama’s lame-duck status in the closing months of his tenure means a Republican congress is none too inclined to cooperate, refusing to initiate confirmation hearings for anyone the commander in chief might nominate.

For the moment, immigration conservatives are enjoying a victory. For now, that seems good enough as the high court’s decision has effectively stalled White House policies on immigration reform efforts for the duration of President Obama’s term.

Executive overreach, which conservatives say has hallmarked, President Obama’s policy, might not be an issue at all after the November elections. Election outcomes could see a complete dismantling of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, especially with the inauguration of a President Trump on Jan. 20, 2017.

President Obama said the SCOTUS ruling takes the U.S. “further from the country we aspire to be” and called the decision “heartbreaking” for millions of immigrants.

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