Supreme Court 4-4 Tie Blocks Obama Plan for Deportation Relief for Some Parents

By Mark Walsh — June 23, 2016 3 min read
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[Updated June 23 1:50 p.m.]

The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on Thursday in the challenge to the Obama administration’s program offering relief from deportation and work permits to some 4 million unauthorized immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children.

The case of United States v. Texas (No. 15-674) was being watched by education groups for its implications for schools and immigrant families. The decision came on a busy day when the justices also issued a ruling upholding a race-conscious admissions plan at the University of Texas at Austin.

The tie vote in the immigration case means that a lower court ruling that sustained a challenge to the program by 26 states is affirmed without an opinion from the high court. In practical terms, that means the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program is dead pending action by Congress, where it would likely face the same big political hurdles immigration bills have faced in recent years.

The justices were flooded with briefs offering social science evidence about how removing the threat of deportation of undocumented parents helps children, emotionally, socially, and in school, which I reported on here.

For example, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, intervened in the case on behalf of three undocumented mothers in Texas, two of whom have school-age children who are U.S. citizens.

“Though this reprieve would not provide any legal status, pathway to citizenship, or defense to removal, if the [DAPA] guidance is implemented the Jane Does would be able to apply for deferred action in the hope of obtaining some temporary certainty in their lives and the lives of their children,” the MALDEF brief said.

The DAPA guidance was challenged by Texas and 26 other states, which argue that the Obama administration exceeded its authority under several federal immigration laws by adopting the program by executive action.

A federal district court sided with Texas and issued an injunction to block the program, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, upheld that decision.

One of Texas’ arguments was that DAPA would cause it and other states to incur additional costs in the areas of law enforcement, health care, and education.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement that said the 4-4 tie “keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law. This is a major setback to President Obama’s attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law.”

President Barack Obama, speaking at the White House, said the deadlock means “the expanded set of common-sense deferred action policies—the ones I announced two years ago—can’t go forward at this stage.”

The president noted that a separate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy for some 7 million undocumented children and young adults who arrived as children in the U.S. and have lived here since 2007, is not affected by the Texas case.

“But today’s decision is frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system, and to allow people to come out of the shadows and lift this perpetual cloud on them,” Obama said.

Cecillia Wang, the director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement that the “non-decision in the DAPA case leaves the legal questions about the president’s immigration authority unanswered. But by leaving in place the injunction issued by the district judge, today’s 4-4 tie has a profound impact on millions of American families whose lives will remain in limbo, and who will now continue the fight.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.