U.S. Supreme Court tie upholds lower court ruling on executive actions on immigration

The U.S. Supreme Court is nearing the end of its term, and a number of important cases remain including Whole Women’s Health – a Texas access to abortion case that court watchers say will come Monday. Today brought outcomes in two other major cases. In a surprise ruling, the court upheld affirmative action in college admissions. While calling for “strict scrutiny” of racial preferences, the decision also calls for “considerable deference” to universities in defining diversity on their campuses. And the still incomplete bench tied in the long awaited case involving President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Lena Nozizwe has more.

Download Audio

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

That one simple sentence from the Supreme Court Thursday affects the future of millions of undocumented parents and children in the United States who are in legal limbo – and who won’t be protected by President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, at least for now.

A four-to-four Supreme Court tie means the lower court’s action stands. In this case, the president’s efforts to expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and to implement Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, remain blocked and members of mixed immigration status families will not be granted temporary legal status.

The high court’s ruling comes in U.S. v. Texas, in which the Obama administration appealed a Texas court ruling halting his executive actions on immigration. The original case was brought by a coalition of 26 states who say the president is overreaching his authority.

After the decision was released, a frustrated President Obama said the lack of comprehensive immigration reform – and the absence of an actual Supreme Court ruling – is not a win for those who have described his actions as executive amnesty.

“That’s the real amnesty, pretending that we can deport 11 million people or build a wall without spending tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money is abetting what is really just factually incorrect. It’s not going to work. It’s not good for this country,” Obama explains. “It’s a fantasy that offers nothing to help the middle class. It and demeans our tradition of being both a nation of law and a nation of immigrants.”

In April, House Speaker Paul Ryan filed a friend of the court brief supporting the legal challenge to the expanded DACA and DAPA. The Wisconsin Republican also addressed the court’s ruling Thursday.

“It’s a win in our fight to restore the separation of powers. Presidents don’t write laws. Congress writes laws. This is a case that the House weighed in on because it is fundamental to our systems of checks and balances,” Ryan said. “Congress, not the president, writes our laws. And today the Supreme Court validated that very core, essential, fundamental principal.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the charge against the executive actions, released a statement that echoed Speaker Ryan’s sentiments. He said, in part, “Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law.”

Kerry Martin, the founder of the advocacy group Immigrant Dignity, is disappointed by today’s ruling and says, in fact, the president has not overreached his authority.

“It is really an exercise in prosecutorial discretion. This is the executive branch, which gets choose to how the laws are enforced,” Martin points out. “All that the Obama administration has done is to say we are going to allow people to identify themselves and come out of the shadows and say I do not have any criminal record, I am parent of a citizen or permanent resident in this country. I am a low risk and to deport me would break up my family and would be a waste of the Department of Homeland Security’s resources.”

The Migration Policy Institute has identified 275,000 people as eligible for expanded DACA – and 3.6 million people who would be impacted by DAPA – if it were adopted.

Mixed status families across the country face the anxiety of never knowing when they might be separated – a parent, or a child, facing possible deportation at any time. Magdalena Vasquez comes from one such family. She was born in the United States and is therefore a citizen. Her parents, however, came to the U.S. more than 20 years ago from Oaxaca, Mexico to work in the farms. They are undocumented, and the uncertainty of their futures is excruciatingly painful.

“We kind of tend to not talk about it in my family, just because it brings up these questions of what does the future hold for my parents, like what are their options?” Vasquez asks.

Beyond the psychological impact of legal status, there is an economic one as well, according to Sarah Pierce, a policy assistant at the Migration Policy Institute.

“For example, we have that work authorization could have boosted incomes for the average DAPA household by 10 percent, and that there are 10.1 million people living in households with a potential DAPA applicant, so that’s a lot of people, that’s a big chunk of people,” explains Pierce.

The Supreme Court decision will not affect anyone already covered under DACA. If there is a silver lining in the fact that the Supreme Court did not make a decision, it’s that no precedent has been set. The High Court can take up the issue again when the ninth seat on the bench, formerly held by the late Antonin Scalia, is filled.

In his final months as president, Obama has nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland to flesh out the bench. But leadership in the Republican-controlled Senate has said it will not hold a vote before the next president is inaugurated.

You may also like...