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(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-4 split left in place a lower court’s opinion that blocks President’s Obama’s executive action on immigration from going into effect, at least for now.

The president called Thursday’s court decision “heartbreaking.”

What Happens Now: Status Quo?

Obama made it clear that people who have been in the country for a long time and are otherwise law-abiding people, despite being here illegally, will remain lower deportation priorities, saying, “What we don’t do is to prioritize people who have been here a long time who are otherwise law-abiding, who have roots and connections in their communities.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson issued a statement reassuring people that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy will not change: “This court ruling does not affect the existing DACA policy, which was not challenged. Eligible individuals may continue to come forward and request initial grants or renewals of DACA, pursuant to the guidelines established in 2012.”

Johnson also committed to keeping families together.

“We are expanding policies designed to help family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents stay together when removal would result in extreme hardship,” he said.


This case involved the administration’s 2014 announcement that it intended to grant “deferred action” — essentially, temporary relief from the threat of deportation — to millions of people living in the United States without legal status. The program would have mainly applied to parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. (That’s why it’s commonly known as “DAPA” — “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.”)

But the announcement also expanded an earlier deferred-action initiative that applies to people who came to the United States as children (that one is referred to as “DACA” or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”).

The administration argued that recipients of “deferred action” don’t receive lawful immigration status; they’re just notified that they’re not a deportation priority, so they can, in the administration’s words, “come out of the shadows,” and do things like apply for work authorization. Most estimates place the number of potentially affected individuals at four million or more.

The Challenge

Texas and 25 other states claimed that the plan conflicts with the existing immigration statutes, unilaterally granting legal status to individuals who are here unlawfully under existing immigration law; they also argue that the administration should have announced the new policy through a formal “notice-and-comment” rulemaking process. They argue that the plan is unconstitutional; that by crafting this plan the president has failed to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

How the Obama Administration Responded

The administration responded, first, that Texas had no right to be in court attacking this policy in the first place. It also argued that the plan was well within the discretion Congress has granted the executive branch to set immigration priorities, and that the administration was just deciding how best to use its limited enforcement resources; that it was entitled to use the processes it did to announce the program; and that it was plainly constitutional.

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