Supreme Court tie is a 'huge blow' to immigrant rights


The bad news hit Zaira Garcia like a punch to the stomach.

“This was a huge blow,” she told me over the phone, her voice broken by tears. “I haven’t even told my parents yet. They don’t know.”

She’s referring to the Supreme Court’s 4-4 split vote this morning on a landmark immigration case that essentially puts a kibosh on DAPA and expanded-DACA, two executive actions by President Obama designed to provide temporary deportation relief and work permits for 4 million undocumented immigrants. The tie upholds a lower court ruling that determined the president does not have the constitutional authority to change immigration policy by decree.

The case could go back before the Supreme Court when it’s fully staffed again, but the fate of DAPA and expanded-DACA have never looked worse.

As of now, there’s no immigration relief in sight for millions of families like the Garcias who had been banking on Obama’s executive actions as their last best chance to shield themselves from separation and deportation.

“You work really hard to get ahead in life, but does any of it matter when you can lose what matters most to you in a moment’s notice?” Zaira said, referring to the constant fear that her parents, undocumented immigrants from Mexico, could be deported at any moment.

“I really had faith in the system, and didn’t think this would be the decision,” she said. “It’s not fair and millions of lives are being affected by this.”

(Read Zaira’s full story here.)

Immigrant rights groups across the nation are expressing outrage, sadness and a deep disappointment in the U.S. justice system.

“Instead of providing clarity and guidance, the Court will force millions of families to remain in limbo as Congress fails to address the severe inadequacies of the U.S. immigration system,” reads a statement from the National Immigrant Justice Center.

President Obama also expressed his profound disappointment with the Supreme Court’s inability to issue a clear ruling, saying the non-decision “takes us further from the country we aspire to be.”

The president blamed the split vote on Republican obstructionism, which has prevented the Supreme Court from playing with a full bench.

But he stressed that it will not affect the millions of so-called DREAMers who already benefit from DACA guarantees provided in 2012. The Supreme Court ruling will only block new applicants from applying for a similar initiative to expand DACA and shield parents of U.S. citizens under DAPA.

The president acknowledged that today’s news from Washington, D.C. must be “heartbreaking” to the millions of people around the country who stood to benefit from his executive actions, but offered them a wink by saying that the Court’s ruling will not suddenly put them at additional risk of deportation.

Undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for DAPA and DACA were always considered low priority cases for deportation enforcement, and that won’t change after today’s Supreme Court vote, Obama said.

“This does not substantially change the status quo,” the president said in a press conference this afternoon.

That may sound like a lousy consolation prize, but it’s the best Obama can do in the circumstance. He’s essentially telling the 4 million people who would have qualified for his initiatives: Hey, sorry we couldn’t bring you out of the shadows today, but you’ll be safe in the shadows until we can sort out our immigration system.

While a long-term fix won’t happen under Obama’s watch, the president is hoping that today’s Supreme Court non-decision will again force the issue of comprehensive immigration reform by underscoring the need for “a commonsense bipartisan” overhaul of a system that’s been broken for two decades.

DAPA and DACA were always just a band-aid fix for a festering wound. The initiatives were only intended to keep the patient alive long enough to get to a hospital for serious treatment.

But now that Supreme Court has torn off the band-aid and exposed the wound for all to see, it’s time to finally treat the problem before it gets any more infected.

“Leaving the broken system the way it is, that’s not a solution,” Obama said today. He added, “sooner or later, immigration reform will get done. Congress is not going to be able to ignore America forever.”

Obama’s call for America to finally get serious on immigration included taking a swing at the guy who’s perhaps most responsible for dumbing it down over the last year.

“Pretending we can deport 11 million people or build a wall without spending tens of billions of dollars is abetting what is really just factually incorrect. It’s not going to work, and it’s not good for this country,” Obama said, clearly referring to the cornerstones of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. “It’s a fantasy that offers nothing to help the middle class and demeans our traditions of being both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”

Obama said the calls for mass-deportation and wall-building are part of history of recurring “spasms” and “fear-mongering” that will eventually subside to “our traditions, our history and our better impulses.”

It’s that ultimate faith in the United States’ long game that keeps a flicker of hope alive on days like today for families like the Garcias.

“This is a reminder of why we keep fighting everyday,” Zaira says. “This situation can’t go on forever, and I hope and pray that the Supreme Court’s decision will only inspire more people to join the fight for immigration reform.”

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