Here’s What The Supreme Court’s Tie Means For Undocumented Immigrants

Early Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against President Obama’s illegal immigration executive action, which was an effort to protect and give the right to work legally in the United States to millions of undocumented immigrants. The eight-member court, split evenly between liberal and conservative justices, was tied 4-4 in its decision. This tie favored the lower federal courts’ previous decision, which blocked the program. The case will now return to these lower courts for further consideration and could be reversed by the lower courts, although this is highly unlikely. Thus, it’s worth asking what this SCOTUS decision means for current undocumented immigrants across the nation.

The SCOTUS decision is being regarded as a crushing blow to Obama’s legacy on immigration. The president has already responded to the decision by calling it “heartbreaking,” and claiming that it “takes us further from the country that we aspire to be.” But the decision is an even more crushing blow to the roughly four million undocumented immigrants it would have enabled to live their lives outside of the shadows, without fear of separation from their children, and with the knowledge that the government recognized their humanity.

Obama’s struck-down “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” (DAPA) would have extended protection from deportation and separation from their children to qualifying undocumented parents (those without criminal backgrounds and those who arrived after 2010), enabling them to pay taxes, receive government benefits like Social Security, and legally apply for work authorization.

However, what we should all remember is that while the SCOTUS decision isn’t a victory, it’s not a defeat in the sense that undocumented immigrants are now going to be deported en masse, ASAP. A similar 2012 program by the Obama administration protected roughly 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. Additionally, as the Justice Department pointed out, undocumented immigrants without criminal records are usually left alone, anyway. The SCOTUS decision would have merely been making official what was already the norm.

The government has only enough funds to deport about 400,000 undocumented immigrants annually, and according to The Washington Post, the number is typically fewer than that.

All in all, while the Supreme Court’s decision isn’t a step forward to protect the rights of millions of peaceful Americans whose work overwhelmingly benefits the American economy, it’s more of a missed opportunity than it is a substantial loss.

The five-month delay in announcing the tie implies that the court did try to find a compromise that could draw five votes but was ultimately unsuccessful, according to The Washington Post. The “non-decision” serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the limited capabilities of an under-staffed Court, as the Republican-dominated Congress continues to refuse to do its job and confirm Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, which liberal politicians have not been shy about demanding.

Opponents of Obama’s plan dating back to November 2014, including Texas and 25 other states, argued that Obama did not have the authority to bypass the Republican Congress, and that Texas shouldn’t have to pay for the driver’s licenses of undocumented immigrants allowed to remain in the United States. Additionally, the plan’s opponents argued that only Congress could issue such a sweeping pardon, while the president could only pardon individuals.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out Texas could avoid incurring additional costs by not issuing driver’s licenses and not hiring new personnel to issue the licenses, rebutting the economic question mark next to the case.

But ultimately, the real flaw in conservative arguments against steps toward immigration reform is that they speak to the current laws and current status quo. Their immigration politics are rooted in responding to a serious problem that affects millions of Americans not by action, but by simply ignoring it and doing nothing, while these millions of undocumented workers are stripped of their human dignity, subjected to abuses by their employers for lack of work permits, and forced to live everyday in fear of dislocation and separation because of the immigration status of just one family member. Following the Supreme Court’s Thursday decision, it doesn’t look like real change is going to happen until Congress leans to the left.