Immigration rights advocates expressed disappointment over the Supreme Court’s split ruling June 23 on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s ambitious executive order, which would have protected more than 4.3 million undocumented U.S. residents from deportation.
“The Supreme Court's failure to reach a consensus will leave millions of undocumented individuals, including several hundred thousand South Asians, bereft of any immigration options and will ensure that they continue to operate as a part of our shadow economy,” noted the South Asian Bar Association in a statement.
“We are intensely frustrated that the Supreme Court refused to validate these Executive Actions, which would have served to legitimize thousands of individuals who are now forced to remain on the margins of society and, unlike millions of those before them, are denied the American Dream,” said SABA North America president Vichal Kumar.
SABA Immigration panel co-chair Kalpana Peddibhotla told India-West that Obama’s actions were consistent with those of previous administrations.
In November 2014, Obama issued two executive orders: one benefitting the undocumented parents of American Citizens and legal permanent residents – known as DAPA – and an expanded version of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which currently benefits undocumented youth.
India ranks among the top 10 origin countries with individuals eligible for DACA, and ranks third among individuals eligible for DAPA. At least 23,000 Indian and Pakistani youth are eligible for DACA and expanded DACA, and about 200,000 Indian and Pakistani individuals are eligible for DAPA, according to statistics released by South Asian Americans Leading Together.
In addition to relief from deportation, beneficiaries of the DACA-DAPA programs would receive work authorization and be eligible for drivers’ licenses. In issuing the order, the President noted he was not providing amnesty or a pathway to citizenship, and urged Congress to come up with a long-term solution for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents.
Twenty-six states – led by Texas – immediately filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s executive orders and noted that the initiative imposes an unfair economic burden on states to issue millions of drivers’ licenses. A lower court sided with the states and issued a temporary injunction against implementing the initiatives. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas last November upheld the ruling; the Obama Administration then appealed the lower court’s decision to the Supreme Court.
“DAPA is an unprecedented unlawful assertion of executive power. DAPA would be one of the largest changes in immigration policy in our nation’s history,” argued Texas solicitor general Scott Keller, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments April 18.
During oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that Congress has not addressed comprehensive immigration reform and added that pulling 11 million people “out of the shadows” could hugely benefit the American economy. Various reports indicate that undocumented immigrants have paid $300 billion to Social Security through payroll taxes – though they cannot receive benefits – and contributed more than $11 billion in state and local taxes.
The Court did not disclose how the Justices voted June 23, simply that the decision was split. The court has deadlocked several times since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but in this case – unlike others – the Supreme Court will not be able to take up the case again, as Obama’s term ends in December.
Immigration activists decried the Supreme Court’s deadlock.
“Executive action on the part of the President was necessary to move past a gridlocked Congress that refused to pass common-sense immigration reform legislation,” said Suman Raghunathan, SAALT's executive director.
“Without this, millions of immigrants will not be eligible for the full benefits they deserve, like healthcare. Congress needs to do its job. Polls continue to show that a bipartisan majority of Americans support a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Today’s ruling is a catalyst for the next Congress to act and ensure that all immigrants have a path to the full benefits of citizenship and allow us to live up to our core values of fairness and opportunity,” she added.
SAALT noted that the existing DACA program is still in effect and encouraged eligible people to apply for benefits.
The Center for American Progress noted, in a report released a day before the Supreme Court deadlock was announced, that 169,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are currently eligible for the existing DACA program, but only 18,000 have applied since the program was implemented.
CAP noted that AAPI undocumented immigrants face three unique challenges when determining whether to apply for DACA: lack of language assistance, stigma and shame related to their legal status, and isolation from the larger immigrant community.
CAP president and CEO Neera Tanden issued a statement on the Supreme Court split.
“Today’s ruling is a stark reminder of how the obstruction of Senate Republicans continues to negatively affect millions of Americans and their families. DAPA and expanded DACA are important, commonsense policies that were blocked first by a politically motivated lawsuit and then by a do-nothing Senate. We cannot let the partisan, political effort to prevent the Supreme Court from fully functioning continue.
“Not moving forward with these initiatives is a loss for millions of families, as well as for the economy since the nation will continue to lose $29.9 million in GDP each day without them,” she said, deriding the Senate for failing to vote on Merrick Garland, Obama’s appointee to fill the seat vacated by Scalia.
Several protests around the country are scheduled for June 24.