| PostIndependent.com

High court tie stymies Obama; is ‘devastating’ to local immigrant families

Thousands of Colorado immigrants Thursday lost their hope of being temporarily shielded from deportation when a tied Supreme Court Thursday blocked President Barack Obama’s immigration plan.

“This decision is devastating to the families trying to find a way to do the right thing under our long-outdated immigration system,” said Glenwood Springs immigration attorney Jennifer Smith.

“For the undocumented people in our valley it means less options to start businesses, buy houses and better our community by being fully integrated,” she said. “And it means more inconsistency in the application of immigration law.”

Smith hopes advocates supporting the president’s plan will prevail in their “goal of humane and just treatment of all people in our country.”

“For the documented people in our valley and especially the U.S. citizens it means we must vote in the election for members of Congress who will address our outdated and inhumane immigration system that does not treat people fairly,” she wrote in an email to the Post Independent.

Sophia Clark of Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said immigrants and advocates were very upset by the ruling, which let stand a lower court order blocking Obama’s executive orders deferring the risk of deportation for an estimated 4 million immigrants.

Clark said people held many hopes for the program, which would have given immigrants added opportunities for employment, getting a home loan and other choices.

Bladimir Majano, an undocumented man from El Salvador living in Glenwood Springs, said he and his wife were terribly disappointed and frustrated by the news.

“We knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy decision, but we expected a more humanitarian decision from the courts,” he said.

Majano and his wife have been in the U.S. for 11 years, and in that time they haven’t been able to return to El Salvador to see their family, including some children, because of the threat of being barred from re-entry into the U.S.

“Being able to see our loved ones is one of the most important things,” he said.

Ted Hess, also a Glenwood Springs immigration attorney, called the Supreme Court split “another in a fairly long line of big disappointments for the long-term undocumented Latino community.”

This community keeps getting their expectations raised only to have them dashed, he said.

“For the foreseeable future, we’re going to continue to have an entire population living in the shadows,” said Hess.

The outcome underscores that the direction of U.S. immigration policy will be determined in large part by this fall’s presidential election, a campaign in which immigration already has played a large role.

People who would have benefited from Obama’s plan face no imminent threat of deportation because Congress has provided money to deal with only a small percentage of people who live in the country illegally, and the president retains ample discretion to decide whom to deport. But Obama’s effort to expand that protection is stymied.

Obama said Thursday’s impasse “takes us further from the country we aspire to be.”

The 4-4 tie vote sets no national precedent but leaves in place the ruling by the lower court. The justices issued a one-sentence opinion, with no further comment.

A nine-justice court agreed to hear the case in January, but by the time of the arguments in late April, Justice Antonin Scalia had died. That left eight justices to decide the case, and the court presumably split along liberal and conservative lines, although the court did not say how each justice voted.

Clark also noted Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. This decision could have gone the other way if that nomination had gone through, she said.

Clark said many immigrants and supporters are angry that “partisan politics stopped something that would have helped millions of families.”

In this case, the federal appeals court in New Orleans said the Obama administration lacked the authority to shield up to 4 million immigrants from deportation and make them eligible for work permits without approval from Congress.

Texas led 26 Republican-dominated states in challenging the program Obama announced in November 2014. Congressional Republicans also backed the states’ lawsuit.

The Obama administration announced the programs — protections for parents of children who are in the country legally and an expansion of the program that benefits people who were brought to this country as children — in November 2014. Obama decided to move forward after Republicans won control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, and the chances for an immigration overhaul, already remote, were further diminished.

The Senate had passed a broad immigration bill with Democratic and Republican support in 2013, but the measure went nowhere in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

The states quickly went to court to block the Obama initiatives. Their lawsuit was heard by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas. Hanen previously had criticized the administration for lax immigration enforcement.

Hanen sided with the states, blocking the programs from taking effect. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled for the states, and the Justice Department rushed an appeal to the high court so that it could be heard this term.

Had Scalia still been alive, though, he almost certainly would have voted with his fellow conservatives to form a majority in favor of the states.

In practical terms, a victory by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump could mean an end to the programs anyway, since he has vowed to deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

If Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is elected, she could attempt to revive the programs or work with the new Congress on comprehensive immigration legislation.

If Clinton wins, the Senate will at some point fill the vacancy created by Scalia’s death — either with Obama’s nominee, Garland, or a Clinton choice. In either case, legal challenges to executive action under her administration would come to a court that would have a majority of Democratic-appointed justices and, in all likelihood, give efforts to help immigrants a friendlier reception.

“There’s a saying in my country,” said Majano. “In war, it’s not over until one side gives up. And we’re not giving up. We lost one battle, not the war.”