LOS ANGELES – Local immigration-rights activists expressed disappointment Thursday in the U.S. Supreme Court’s inability to reach a decision on President Barack Obama’s effort to expand deportation protection to millions of parents of U.S.-born children, but they vowed to continue fighting for change in immigration policy.
“[The] Supreme Court decision blocking President Obama’s executive action on immigration means that the estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles County, one in every 10 Los Angeles residents, will be denied the ability to work with the safety of legal authorization and protection from deportation,” said Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
“We in the Los Angeles labor movement will not let this legal setback deter our work on the ground,” Hicks said. “We stand in support of all workers exercising their rights on the job and in the community. We will continue to support immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, in seeking a better wage, better workplace conditions and protection from wage theft that is running rampant throughout our country.”
Obama’s executive action, announced two years ago, would have allowed immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to request relief from deportation and authorization to work for three years. To qualify, they must have been in the country for more than five years, pass a criminal background check, pay fees and show that their child was born prior to the issuance of the executive order.
Once qualified, they would have also had to pay taxes.
The order also would have expanded the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, by removing the upper age limit of 30. The DACA program would have been amended to offer three years of protection from deportation, up from the previous two years.
The actions were challenged in court by officials in several states, and a lower court judge issued an order blocking the actions, leading to the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court — still short one member — split Thursday 4-4, meaning the lower court ruling remains in effect.
“Justice turned its back to millions today and the politics of obstruction and xenophobia have triumphed instead,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “A dark sunset approaches our land when justice, compassion and respect for history are ignored by a divided court.”
Obama told reporters at the White House the court’s inability to reach a decision was a direct result of Republicans blocking his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving the panel without a deciding ninth vote following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republican lawmakers have said they will not consider Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, until after the presidential election in November.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, hailed the court’s decision.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling makes the president’s executive action on immigration null and void,” he said. “The Constitution is clear. The president is not permitted to write laws — only Congress is. This is another major victory in our fight to restore the separation of powers.”
Martha Arevalo, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, said the fight will continue to protect from deportation immigrants who may be living here illegally but are law-abiding residents.
“Naturally we are disappointed that the Supreme Court couldn’t reach a decision in favor of immigrant families that would have freed them from the fear of deportation and separation,” Arevalo said. “However, we will continue to fight for immigrants’ rights, as we have always done, and we have confidence that history is on our side.”