The Supreme Court of the United States has decided Thursday to block President Barack Obama’s plan to legalize millions of immigrants who are illegally in the country by granting them work permits. Specifically, the decision recognizes the existence of a veto imposed by a lower court. As reported by the Huffington Post, the high court was deadlocked over whether it was constitutional for the president to defer action against more than four million illegal immigrants living in the country.
The highest U.S. court is divided ideologically as it is composed of four conservative justices and four liberals. The 4-4 vote left millions of immigrants in a legal limbo, which is a particularly sensitive issue in an election year. The draw is possible because there are only eight judges in office after the political earthquake that struck the country with the death of the ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia last February.
President Obama announced his plan to lift the threat of deportation from nearly five million undocumented residents in 2014. However, a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s actions left the orders — and millions of undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America — in legal limbo as Obama’s presidency nears its end. The executive action, affecting many parents and young people, marked the most drastic changes to the nation’s fractured immigration laws in almost 30 years.
The announcement of Obama’s plan to defer deportation for millions of illegal immigrants was met wit a fierce response from GOP members.
“The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said at the time.
The main beneficiaries of the president’s actions are immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or permanent residents, PBS reports. After passing background checks and paying fees, those individuals would be granted relief from deportation for three years and get work permits. The administration estimated that 4.1 million people would qualify under the measure.
The New York Times wrote that the ruling is a rebuke to his go-it-alone approach to immigration and effectively blocks any hope that his administration could protect millions of immigrants from the threat of deportation before he hands the presidency to his successor.
In any case, this failure poses no legal precedent that would limit future presidents, and it means that the next president will once again need to seek a congressional compromise to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
“Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. “This is a major setback to President Obama’s attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law.”
USA Today described the ruling as “a sudden, crushing defeat for millions of parents who came to the country illegally and have lived in the shadows, often for decades.” The administration had hoped that at least one of the more conservative justices — possibly Chief Justice John Roberts — would rule that the plan posed no financial threat to the states and therefore could not be challenged in court.
It is not the first time the Supreme Court has determined the fate of an important initiative from Obama. The high court in 2012 and 2015 played a significant role in the preservation of health reform which the Republicans had fiercely fought against.
While Thursday’s ruling was celebrated by many conservatives and Republicans, many liberals were not too thrilled with the high court’s decision. One such person is Rocio Saenz, the executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.
“This is personal,” Saenz was quoted as saying. “We will remain at the front lines, committed to defending the immigration initiatives and paving the path to lasting immigration reform.”
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