Monday 20 November 2017

‘Heartbreak’ for millions as judges in US split on Obama’s migrant plan

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

Rachael Alexander in Washington

The US Supreme Court has announced it is split on President Barack Obama’s plan to shield millions of undocumented immigrants living illegally in the US.

The divide comes as a severe blow to Mr Obama’s 2014 executive action, in which he bypassed Congress to protect immigrants from deportation.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan applauded the news, saying only Congress should write laws.

But the president (inset) said the deadlock was “heartbreaking” for millions of people.

“They are Americans in every way but on paper,” he said at the White House, adding that reform will happen, sooner or later. “Congress is not going to be able to ignore America forever,” he said.

Its legality will now be assessed in a lower district court.

The deadlock between the eight judges was only possible because of the death of the ninth, Justice Antonin Scalia, leaving a vacancy that is still unfilled.

This is the first tied decision produced by the court, as the Senate continues to block Mr Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.

The court’s inability to find a majority either supporting Mr Obama’s unilateral executive action on immigration or striking it down, means the whole controversy heads back into the lap of a lower-level conservative judge in Texas.

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 has already 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.

He said yesterday’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 mid-term 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.

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