Deadlocked decision leaves fate of undocumented immigrants hanging
The Supreme Court arrived at a deadlocked decision on President Barack Obama’s contested immigration policies on Thursday, June 23, leaving the fate of as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. uncertain.
A 4-4 vote delays definitive judgment on the matter and leaves in place a ruling from a lower court that blocks the president’s executive order. A tie would not have happened if not for a vacant ninth seat on the bench left by former Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away in February.
“This is a consequence of the Republican failure, so far, to give a fair hearing to Mr. Merrick Garland, my nominee to the Supreme Court,” said Obama during a press conference at the White House on Thursday.
The split ruling halts the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, and expansions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but does not establish legal precedent for future cases.
In 2013, a bipartisan bill that would have offered undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship while doubling the Border Patrol passed the Senate. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives, however, refused to bring it to a vote.
Bypassing Congress, Obama then introduced a series of executive actions in November 2014 — including DAPA and expanded DACA — which would have granted work authorization and protection from deportation to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants.
“For more than two decades now, our immigration system, everyone acknowledges, has been broken,” said the president. “The fact that the Supreme Court wasn’t able to issue a decision [Thursday] doesn’t just set the system back even further; it takes us further from the country we aspire to be.”
However, opponents of the administration’s actions say the president overstepped his authority. They say sweeping changes to immigration policy require the approval of Congress because they would incur costs and consequences for numerous states.
On February 16, 2015, 26 states, led by Texas, won an injunction blocking the president’s orders. The decision from US District Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas came just two days ahead of the DAPA program’s scheduled debut.
“[Thursday’s] ruling is a victory for the rule of law and our democracy,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement. “The Supreme Court … has reaffirmed that only Congress has the power to make laws.”
The court’s non-decision moves the focus of the immigration debate to the upcoming presidential elections.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has yet to comment on the Supreme Court ruling, previously proposed deporting all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. In order to accomplish this, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would need to stop prioritizing the removal of serious criminals in order to exponentially increase the rate of deportations, according to a New York Times report.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has vowed not to deport any undocumented immigrants except violent criminals and terrorists, according to a report from the Washington Post. In a statement released Thursday, June 23, Clinton called Thursday’s ruling “purely procedural” and has pledged to stand by DAPA and DACA.
The former secretary of state repeated her promise to introduce comprehensive immigration reform featuring a pathway to citizenship during her first hundred days in office.
“These are our friends and family members; neighbors and classmates; DREAMers and parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents,” Clinton said. “They enrich our communities and contribute to our economy every day. We should be doing everything possible under the law to provide them relief from the specter of deportation.”
Filipino DACA recipient and policy advocate for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, Anthony Ng, said the program has allowed him and other talented immigrants make greater contributions to society. Ng, who graduated from the University of California, Irvine, said if it weren’t for DACA, the risk of deportation might have prevented him from entering the workforce.
“This ruling sends a strong message to make our voices heard,” said Ng. “We need to make sure we have elected officials who will put forth policies that benefit our communities.”
The Pew Research Center estimates that of the nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants facing deportation. This includes approximately 500,000 undocumented AAPIs and more than 40,000 Filipinos. There were 20,000 Filipinos eligible for the DACA program in 2013, according to the Philippine Embassy.
Thursday’s ruling will not affect the existing DACA program enacted in 2012. People may still receive protection from deportation and work authorization if they came to the U.S. before they turned 16 years old, among other requirements.
Had they been implemented, DAPA and the expanded DACA and would have allowed eligible participants to obtain driver’s licenses, health care, and bank accounts and keep resident students from having to pay out-of-state tuition fees, according to a statement released by Advancing Justice-LA.
“These programs would allow our families to stay together and not live in fear,” the organization said in the statement.
According to a report from the Migration Policy Institute, of the 10 million people who live in a household with at least one DAPA eligible person, 4.3 million are children under the age of 18. Thirty-seven percent of undocumented immigrants in the country are parents of minors who are US citizens, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
The Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) in Los Angeles was “saddened” upon learning about the decision because of the impact of DACA and DAPA on the lives of many undocumented Filipinos, according to Lolita Lledo, associate director and lead organizer of PWC.
Lledo emphasized the importance of these policies because it promotes open conversation about immigration and the obstacles that undocumented immigrants face upon coming to the U.S. She said that many undocumented Filipinos are hesitant to reach out for research because of stigmas tied to being labeled an undocumented immigrant.
“I think most of our kababayans don’t know the process and they’re still living in fear and [try to be] invisible and not catch any attention,” said Lledo, who mentioned instances where parents don’t want their children to apply for DACA in fear that they will be deported once they reveal their status.
Lledo added that helping undocumented immigrants along the path to citizenship does not mean “immediately rewarding them with amnesty,” but rather giving them the chance to “fall in line” and go through regular protocol and procedure to become naturalized citizens.
“It’s just like, ‘Why can’t we not help these undocumented immigrants that need our help?’” said Lledo. “They just want to be citizens. They’re not terrorists. They just want to work and contribute something to our society, so why don’t we help them?”
For DACA qualifiers, Advancing Justice-LA offers free assistance for first-time applicants and renewals. For more information, call their toll free hotline: Tagalog at (800) 300-2552 and/or English/Spanish at (213) 241-0240.