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Immigration ruling raises 2016 stakes

24 Jun

AUSTIN – The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked Thursday over a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states against President Obama’s 2014 executive action regarding immigration.

The one-sentence ruling leaves in place a preliminary injunction pending a hearing before a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute, the president’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) action would have affected an estimated 3.5 million people nationwide.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Luis Ortega told KVUE Thursday. An Austin resident since the age of five, Ortega’s sister Jacky is a citizen and his own status is protected under Mr. Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order. Their father, a construction worker, is still undocumented.

“We honestly never know if he ever is going to come back when he goes out,” said Ortega.

The 2014 DAPA order would have expanded DACA and temporarily shielded an estimated 592,000 people in Texas — including 28,000 in Travis County — from deportation, while allowing them to obtain work permits and pay taxes. Obama argued federal agencies lacked the resources to deport every single undocumented immigrant, and the order was a legal exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

Before being sworn in as governor, Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit against the administration as one of his final acts as state attorney general. Thursday’s ruling was a major victory for the Republican who campaigned on his prolific litigation against Obama.

“The action taken by the President was an unauthorized abuse of presidential power that trampled the Constitution, and the Supreme Court rightly denied the President the ability to grant amnesty contrary to immigration laws,” Abbott said in a statement Thursday. “As the President himself said, he is not a king who can unilaterally change and write immigration laws. Today’s ruling is also a victory for all law-abiding Americans—including the millions of immigrants who came to America following the rule of law.”

“This decision was highly anticipated but probably not surprising,” said Migration Policy Institute attorney Muzaffar Chishti, who was in the courtroom during arguments in April. “Texas has claimed that by granting the people deferred action they become eligible for drivers licenses and granting them drivers licenses would fiscally have an impact on Texas, and the justices struggled with that a lot.”

“It’s bitter fruit from the same tree that produced this deadlock on gun safety,” countered Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). “The failure of Congress to confirm a new Supreme Court justice meant a deadlock, and for so many of our neighbors, it means a great disappointment from a setback. Those dreamers out at the university ready to contribute, parents of American children who might open up a small business, they’re set back until this Congress finally gets about the business of comprehensive immigration reform. That will be next year.”

“The ruling today does not affect individuals who have already been granted deferred action,” said Austin attorney Corina Farias, a partner at Foster LLP, a law firm which specializes in immigration. Farias explains “DREAMers” are in the clear. “They continue to be eligible to apply for deferred action and they continue to be eligible to obtain extensions of their employment authorization.”

The long-term bottom line, says Chishti, “This did not conclude the debate. This just put another semicolon in this whole journey, and I think for all practical purposes it has been left now for the next administration.”

“It’s quite clear that Mr. Trump has announced that he will not be in favor of any such program, but if there’s a Clinton administration, they have a theoretical possibility of reissuing an order like this, slightly modified, and hope that it will not get challenged,” said Chishti. If the case returns to the Supreme Court, the justice with the deciding vote will be nominated by the next president.

For Ortega, the next step is simple.

“We’re going to stand up and keep fighting back until we get what we need and what is fair and justice for all the families,” said Ortega.