A 4-4 deadlock from the Supreme Court on President Obama’s immigration plan – an executive action that would allow immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to apply for deportation protection – is set to leave more than five million families unprotected and unable to work in the U.S.
Thursday’s decision came months after the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs were challenged by 26 states, led by Texas, who accused Obama of “ignoring administrative procedures, changing rules and of abusing the power of his office,” The New York Times reports.
The Court failed to reach a decision on United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, likely due to the empty Supreme Court seat. Experts are looking at the tie as a defeat for the White House – as Vox points out, the case cannot be taken up again until the seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia has been occupied.
By then, Obama’s last term will be over.
The Court’s deadlock could lead to judicial chaos close to the election: Pro-immigration advocates have challenged a circuit court’s authority to make decisions affecting the whole country, and have hinted they’ll bring a suit in another region of the country to put the executive actions into effect there.
In the medium term, the future of immigration policy will be decided by the winner of the 2016 presidential election: Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has promised to get rid of the existing program offering protections to young unauthorized immigrants, while presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has promised to find a way to expand protections even further than Obama did (which means she’d have to use a different justification than the one offered in the now-abortive Obama programs).
In a statement delivered shortly after the ruling, President Obama called the decision “frustrating” and “heartbreaking,” adding that the deadlock is a residual of Republicans’ refusal to back his SCOTUS nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
“Congress is not going to be able to ignore America forever. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said. “We get these spasms of politics around immigration and fear-mongering, and then our traditions and our history and our better impulses kick in.”
With an unoccupied seat in SCOTUS and an upcoming election, the fate of millions of immigrants who contribute to society remains unknown.