With the U.S. Supreme Court still short one justice after Antonin Scalia's death, the current eight justices split evenly last week on a case that will impact more than four million undocumented immigrants in this country. The deadlock was a serious blow to the immigration reforms that President Obama has been trying to implement via executive action since late 2014. He was unable to get changes to immigration laws passed by Congress. The president said that the 4-4 vote "takes us further from the country that we aspire to be."
Obama's Plan and Programs Like DACA and DAPA
The changes that Obama sought to implement would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for programs like Deferred Action of Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). He also sought the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These reforms would have enabled those with family ties to the U.S. to more easily seek legal status without being afraid of deportation.
As long as Scalia's vacancy goes unfilled amidst Republican refusal to consider the president's nominee, any 4-4 decisions by the court will send cases back to the lower court. This case started with challenges by 26 states to Obama's efforts to help undocumented families. Those challenges resulted in a federal district court blocking the president's efforts.
Ruling Leaves Millions in Legal Limbo
While Scalia would likely have supported the federal court ruling, legal scholars say that at least a 5-4 decision would have been a definitive ruling on the matter.
The ruling sets back the efforts of many immigrants with strong family ties in the U.S. who were counting on these programs to be able to live and work openly. Millions of people already had their applications ready as they waited for the legal battles to play out.
November Election Will Prove Key to Immigration Laws
Reaction by both the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, was swift and reflective of their polar opposite view on the matter. So was the reaction by congressional republicans who applauded the ruling.
Now, it seems that people who had been counting on the success of President Obama's efforts need to wait to see how things play out in the 2016 presidential race and in state and congressional races this November. In the meantime, experienced immigration attorneys can offer guidance based on each person's individual situation.
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