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Obama Immigration Plan Blocked by 4-4 Tie at Supreme Court

Ruling delights conservatives, leaves larger issues in limbo

The Supreme Court's deadlock on the White House's efforts to shield millions who are living in the U.S. illegally from deportation is a major victory-by-default for Texas and 25 other Republican-dominated states. Their arguments that President Barack Obama was overstepping his executive authority thwarted what might otherwise have been legacy-defining policy.

Here's a closer look at Thursday's ruling, which many conservatives hailed as halting federal overreach but which immigration advocates said would tear families apart today and leave lingering legal questions for the future.


The high court's tie won't set national precedent because it ended 4-4. But it upholds a lower court's order blocking the Obama administration's plan to spare up to 4 million immigrants from deportation.

The larger issue of whether the president has the authority to grant such orders remains unresolved -- and won't be decided while Obama is still in office. Obama said Thursday he has no intention of deporting millions of immigrants, meaning the status quo will likely remain for many.

Still, that didn't stop the celebration among Texas officeholders, who led the 2014 lawsuit by 26 states opposing Obama's efforts. State Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling "a major setback to President Obama's attempts to expand executive power."


Obama's plan was close to implementation when U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in the Texas-Mexico border city of Brownsville issued a February 2015 injunction that prompted the Supreme Court ruling.

The case now returns to Hanen, setting up arguments on the broader legality of the White House's efforts, which eventually could be appealed and in front of the Supreme Court again. By that time, the next president likely will have nominated a successor for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this year, meaning the case will have a majority ruling that can set legal precedent.

"We are confident that the law is on our side, that history is on our side and that justice is on our side," said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.


Obama championed two major efforts to help people in the country illegally avoid deportation.

In 2012, he announced temporary relief from deportation for those who were brought to the United States as children. More than 700,000 people took advantage of that, and the Supreme Court's ruling shouldn't impact them.

A 2014 Obama executive order sought to extend the relief to parents who are in the country illegally but who have children who are U.S. citizens. This group will now have to wait for the long legal process to shake out.

Zaira Garcia, a 23-year-old from Austin, fought back tears Thursday as she described the constant fear that her parents could be deported: "This is about mom and dad who have been humiliated and exploited, and continue to keep their heads down out of love for their U.S. citizen children."

Top conservatives countered that the rule of law must be enforced.

"By trying to unilaterally grant amnesty to nearly 5 million people, President Obama invited even more illegal immigration, which in turn undermines our security and drives down the wages of Americans across our nation," said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.


Because the larger immigration issue won't be settled until after Obama's presidency, the Supreme Court decision should ensure that immigration issues will give Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump yet another topic to disagree on. Clinton called the decision "unacceptable." Trump cheered it as blocking "one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president."


"It's never heartless to do the right thing," said Buddy Saunders, owner of Lone Star Comics.

Saunders said doing the right thing is following the law.

"There are a lot of people outside the U.S. that want to come here legally, and they're waiting their turn, and when they get here they're welcome. I want 'em here."

Saunders' business employs about 80 people.

"We only hire people that we know are legally here, and that's not hard to figure out," he said.

The Supreme Court's decision leaves Soledad Garcia, and millions of other undocumented immigrants across the United States, in limbo.

Garcia illegally entered the country nine years ago. Since that time, she's lived what many would consider to be the American dream. Her continuous pursuit of a better life for her 3-year-old daughter is now on hold.

"It was so hard, but we made here," Garcia said, of her journey from Mexico. "I graduated from high school. I got married three years ago. I have a little girl. I'm working hard to support my family. I want to go to college, I want to go to university. I want to be somebody."

Garcia said her biggest fear is being deported, but immigration attorney Paul Zoltan said millions of undocumented are at a low-risk of being deported. He said the U.S. has neither the time nor resources to execute a mass deportation of millions of people. His biggest concern is that undocumented immigrants who felt confident enough to apply for deferred action will now retreat back into the shadows.

"It underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform. It underscores the need for legislative action," Zoltan said. "While [they] don't need to live in terror of a knock on [their] door, [they] will be unable to drive legally, to work legally."

What's next for Garcia and her family will likely not be decided until after the 2016 election. She cannot vote, but implored voters to think about the people and families at the heart of the immigration issue.

"One vote can be the difference, so you have to go out and vote because you have to help us," she said. "We are not bad people. We just want to support our family and work hard."


Supporters of immigration reform held a march and rally Thursday night in Dallas to protest the ruling. The march, led by the Workers Defense Project, began at Cathedral Guadalupe and ended at Dallas City Hall.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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