by Julián Aguilar and Madlin Mekelburg , The Texas Tribune
Tomas Martinez, with GLAHR, a grass roots organization from Atlanta, chants to excite the crowd in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 18, 2016. Hundreds gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to show their support for President Obama’s immigration executive action as the Court heard oral arguments on the deferred action initiatives, DAPA and expanded DACA.
Dealing a major blow to President Obama’s controversial executive immigration order, the U.S. Supreme Court announced Thursday it had deadlocked on a lower court’s decision to block the plan, which would’ve provided relief from deportation and work permits to millions of people.
The program was blocked in February 2015 by a Brownsville-based federal judge, Andrew Hanen, days before it was scheduled to begin. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction in November.
In a one-sentence opinion on the 4-4 split, the Supreme Court declared the 5th Circuit’s “judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”
“By going around Congress to grant legal status to millions of people here illegally, the president abused the power of his office and ignored the will of the American people,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement. “The president can’t circumvent the legislative process simply because he doesn’t get what he wants, and I’m glad the rule of law was affirmed.”
The case now returns to Hanen’s district court, where litigation on the merits of the plan could continue.
“The government can request rehearing [from the Supreme Court], but otherwise the case will now go back to the district court for further proceedings,” Kayleigh Lovvorn, spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, said in a statement. “We will now seek a permanent injunction.”
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, called the ruling “a setback,” but said it’s “not the end of the road for these much-needed programs or for the millions of people eligible for them.”
“I am confident that this case will come before the Supreme Court again,” he added.
Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced in November 2014 and could have granted deportation relief to more than 4 million people living in the country illegally — including more than 1 million undocumented immigrants in Texas. The program would also have allowed the immigrants to apply for renewable work permits if they have lived in the country for more than five years, pass background checks and pay fines.
As of 2015, about 533,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas — roughly 40 percent of the state’s undocumented-immigrant population — had children legally in the country, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
About 1.17 million undocumented immigrants living in Texas have been in the country for at least five years, including about 222,000 who have lived here for more than 20 years.
Texas and 16 other states initially sued the Obama administration in early December 2014 after the executive action was announced; eight others eventually signed on. Hanen’s decision was upheld twice by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
In arguments before the Supreme Court in April, attorneys for the state of Texas accused the president of circumventing Congress with the unilateral action on immigration. They added in court documents that the state would be “irreparably harmed” by having to pay to process driver’s licenses for the applicants and give them benefits.
But the Obama administration countered by saying Texas does not have standing to sue the government and that the president isn’t granting people in the country illegally a free pass. Instead, he’s telling immigration agents to use their limited resources to deport criminals and felons, while simultaneously allowing immigrants deemed low-priority to work and stay with their families.