Immigration and Citizenship

Obama immigration measures on hold after Supreme Court deadlock

A 4-4 vote in the Supreme Court on Thursday leaves in place an appellate decision blocking President Barack Obama’s executive orders intended to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court,” the eight justices said in a brief statement.

The ninth seat on the Supreme Court has been vacant since the unexpected death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia. While Obama nominated a successor, the Republican-controlled Senate has so far refused to even consider the nominee, insisting that the choice should be left to the new president who takes office next January.

Frustrated by Congress’ inability to pass immigration reform, Obama issued in November 2014 a package of executive orders that had the potential to provide relief to an estimated 5 million people who were in the U.S. illegally.

One element of the plan called for expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Launched in 2012, DACA has prevented the deportation of more than 500,000 young migrants.

The second major component was the creation of a new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, intended to prevent the deportation of migrants with U.S.-born children.

In November 2015, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans voted 2-1 to uphold a judicial injunction blocking implementation of Obama’s executive orders.

The injunction was granted in February 2015 by Andrew Hanen, a U.S. district judge in Brownsville, Texas, in response to a suit filed by Texas and 25 other Republican-governed states contending that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority.

Though the Supreme Court allows the 5th Circuit ruling to stand, it does not set a nationally binding precedent, according to Brianne Gorod, chief counsel with the Constitutional Accountability Center.

The 5th Circuit has jurisdiction over cases in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and Gorod said that people in the other 47 states could file suits seeking to overturn the injunction against the immigration measures.

“The decision makes it possible for individuals to file suits in other parts of the country, but it is not clear how those courts would respond,” she told EFE. It’s not clear if they would respect the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or if they would rule differently. Frankly, this ruling causes a lot of legal confusion.”

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