Saturday 3 December 2016

Obama immigration plan blocked by Supreme Court tie

Published 23/06/2016 | 17:01

The Obama immigration plan has been blocked
The Obama immigration plan has been blocked

A tie vote by the US Supreme Court is blocking President Barack Obama's immigration plan that sought to shield millions living in the US illegally from deportation.

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The justices' one-sentence opinion effectively kills the plan for the duration of Mr Obama's presidency.

A tie vote sets no national precedent but leaves in place the ruling by the lower court. In this case, the federal appeals court in New Orleans said the Obama administration lacked the authority to shield up to 4 million immigrants from deportation and make them eligible for work permits without approval from Congress.

Texas led 26 Republican-dominated states in challenging the programme Mr Obama announced in November 2014. Congressional Republicans also backed the states' lawsuit.

The outcome suggests that the direction of US immigration policy will be determined in large part by this autumn's presidential election, a campaign in which immigration already has played a significant role.

People who would have benefited from Mr Obama's plan face no imminent threat of deportation because Congress has provided money to deal with only a small percentage of people who live in the country illegally, and the president retains discretion to decide who to deport. But Mr Obama's effort to expand that protection to many others has been stifled.

Mr Obama said Thursday's impasse "takes us further from the country we aspire to be".

A nine-justice court agreed to hear the case in January, but by the time of the arguments in late April, Justice Antonin Scalia had died. That left eight justices to decide the case, and the court is assumed to have split along liberal and conservative lines, although it did not confirm how each justice voted.

The Obama administration announced the programmes - protections for parents of children who are in the country legally and an expansion of the programme that benefits people who were brought to this country as children - in November 2014.

Mr Obama decided to move forward after Republicans won control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, and the chances for an immigration overhaul, already remote, were further diminished.

The Senate had passed a broad immigration bill with Democratic and Republican support in 2013, but the measure went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The states quickly went to court to block the Obama initiatives. Their lawsuit was heard by US District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas. Judge Hanen had previously criticised the administration for poor immigration enforcement.

Judge Hanen sided with the states, blocking the programmes from taking effect. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled for the states, and the Justice Department rushed an appeal to the high court so that it could be heard this term.

Had Scalia still been alive, though, he almost certainly would have voted with his fellow conservatives to form a majority in favour of the states.

In practical terms, a victory by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump could mean an end to the programmes anyway, since he has vowed to deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

If Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is elected, she could attempt to revive the programmes or work with the new Congress on comprehensive immigration legislation.

If Mrs Clinton wins, the Senate will at some point fill the vacancy created by Scalia's death - either with Mr Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, or a Clinton choice.

In either case, legal challenges to executive action under her administration would come to a court that would have a majority of Democratic-appointed justices and, in all likelihood, give efforts to help immigrants a friendlier reception.

AP

Press Association

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