The U.S. Supreme Court announced a 4-4 split on the case challenging President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration reform and Illinois advocates are expressing their dismay as they plan to press their efforts forward.
The deadlock vote means the president's November 2014 orders to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and install the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) have been blocked for the time being.
The programs would have deferred deportation for three years for undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders, while also expanding protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as minors and were not covered by the original DACA program. More than 4 million immigrants would have benefited from the orders, 280,000 people living in Illinois.
"This ruling is deeply frustrating and disappointing for all immigrant communities," said Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights CEO Lawrence Benito. "Instead of being able to move forward with our lives and contributing further to our entire community, immigrants remain vulnerable to the knock on the door that could separate them from their families and from the lives they have made in this country."
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by 26 Republican state governors who argued that the executive orders were unconstitutional. The lower courts ruled in favor of the states, and the case was taken up by the Supreme Court, which issued a one-line statement regarding the deadlock vote: "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court."
The split vote comes as a result of the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia's February death and Senate Republicans' refusal to consider Judge Merrick Garland, whom Obama nominated to the high court in March.
"Today the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision," Obama said in a press conference after news broke on the split vote. "This is a direct consequence of the Senate's failure to act on my Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland."
"Our founders conceived this country as refuge for the world. Welcoming wave after wave of immigrants kept us youthful and dynamic and entrepreneurial," Obama added during his statement. "It has shaped our character and thas made us stronger. But for more than two decades now our immigration system, everybody acknowledges, has been broken. And the fact that the Supreme Court wasn't able to issue a decision today doesn't just set the system back further, it takes us further from the country that we aspire to be."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) was part of the Gang of 8 bipartisan group of legislators that worked on a comprehensive immigration reform package that was passed in the Senate in 2013, but was blocked from consideration in the House by Republicans, which lead Obama to sign the executive orders after more than 500 days of inaction. The Minority Whip admonished Republican senators for failing to consider Garland's nomination.
"The human cost of Senate Republicans' reckless refusal to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court is going to be felt by literally millions of people," said Durbin. "Today, the Supreme Court failed to resolve the legal challenge to DAPA and the expanded DACA, the executive orders of the President. The result of that tie vote--four to four tie vote--leaves millions of families across America in legal limbo."
Here's more of Durbin's comments from the Senate floor:
But, conservatives say the split vote is a victory for Republicans, who do not want a Democratic president to pick the next Supreme Court justice and feel the executive orders were overreaching.
"The U.S. Supreme Court just slapped down Barack Obama's power-grabbing hand, and it couldn't have happened to a more deserving president," Institute for Policy Innovation resident scholar Dr. Merrill Matthews wrote in Rare. "The Court's 4-4 split decision leaves in place an earlier appeals court ruling that Obama does not have the authority to grant 4 million illegal immigrants amnesty. The executive order that Obama issued would have shielded those illegals from deportation and given them rights and benefits that would have cost the states and federal government billions of dollars."
In response to the Supreme Court's deadlock vote, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4), who has been active in pressing for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, said "the 'no, no, no' from Republicans cannot last:"
We are disappointed but not defeated. The Supreme Court decided not to decide the case and so the strategy of Republicans using the courts and inaction in Congress to bring all policy changes to a halt has prevailed for now. Four to five million people will not be able to come forward to affirmatively apply for temporary protection from deportation, criminal background checks, and the ability to work legally, but 45 million Latino citizens will be energized and mobilized by the Court's failure to decide. The cost to the nation of not having a full complement of Justices on the Supreme Court lays bare the choices in November. It will not be difficult for most people to decide if the ninth Justice should be selected by Secretary Clinton or her opponent and to decide which party will fight for legal immigration and legalization in the Congress.
In the time being, the Republicans cannot force the President to deport anyone and the priorities he set - designating families and individuals who pose no threat as the lowest priority for deportation - will continue. The executive's lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion is not affected by the Court's failure to act and will continue. Additional actions taken by this President will help integrate immigrants into our communities, even if the DACA and DAPA programs continue to be on hold. And I will redouble my efforts to hold President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to their policy on prosecutorial discretion so that low priority cases do not result in detention or deportation.
The "no, no, no" from Republicans cannot last. They say no to preventing gun violence. They say no to women's health and Planned Parenthood; no to addressing or even acknowledging climate change; no to the LGBT community; and no to addressing immigration reform. But you cannot hold back progress in a democracy forever. Almost every single undocumented immigrant in this county - the vast majority of whom have been here ten years or more - they are going to live here for the rest of their lives with or without DACA or DAPA. That is just reality. Eventually our policies will catch up with reality so that we have a legal and orderly immigration system, not one based in chaos and the fantasy of mass deportation.
Illinois immigration reform advocates say they will continue to push back against deportations and educate immigrants of their rights when interacting with law enforcement and immigration officials.
"Even with today's ruling, the Department of Homeland Security still has discretion to refrain from deporting individuals, particularly those with longstanding family and community ties," said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of West Suburban Action Project (PASO) and ICIRR board president. "We intend to keep pushing Homeland Security to use its discretion to keep families together, and to protect those families who are facing separation."
Enlace Chicago Executive Director Katya Nuques pointed out that the original DACA program is still in place, despite today's split vote. The group will be holding a "legal clinic 'one-stop-shop' for getting individualized immigration-related legal advice, and completing DACA new and renewal applications."
The Supreme Court's decision is deeply disappointing, however it does not affect the 2012 DACA, and we encourage those who qualify to apply. Saturday, June 25th, at 9am, Enlace Chicago, in collaboration with the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) and the Mexican Consulate in Chicago, will host a clinic for new and renewal applications for those who qualify for the 2012 DACA at Madero Middle School, located at 3202 W 28th St.
Supporters of the president's immigration reform efforts say SCOTUS' deadlock vote illustrates the gravity of what is at stake in the November election.
"This is all about politics for our opponents, but for us, it's personal," said SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Executive Vice President Greg Kelley. "We will continue to call on Gov. Rauner to denounce the divisive rhetoric on immigration reform spouted by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and other extremist Republicans who continue to spew anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
"Rest assured that we will take our fight to the polls on Election Day and beyond 2016. We will vote for those who stand with us, not against us. We will never forget the lengths these politicians went to tear our families apart and demonize our communities."
"The stakes in this fall election are high for all immigrant families," added Fr. Tony Pizzo, leader with the Southwest Organizing Project and pastor of St. Rita de Cascia Parish. "If you are a citizen, register to vote. If you are already registered, make your voice heard this fall at the polls."
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.