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Supreme Court split ends Obama immigration reform
Press conference hosted by Free SF and SFILEN Coalitions outside of the San Francisco Women’s Building on June 23 in response to the the Supreme Court ruling on DAPA and Expanded DACA. Photo courtesy California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance
Press conference hosted by Free SF and SFILEN Coalitions outside of the San Francisco Women’s Building on June 23 in response to the the Supreme Court ruling on DAPA and Expanded DACA. Photo courtesy California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance

On June 23, the eight Supreme Court Justices issued a 4-4 split decision, effectively upholding a lower court’s ruling, which blocked President Barack Obama’s executive actions on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The court’s ruling, or “non-ruling,” affects millions of undocumented immigrants who would’ve been shielded from deportation and benefited from work permits, had DAPA and Expanded DACA gone into effect.

“Of course we wish that the Supreme Court had given us a much more positive decision,” said Amanda Alvarado Ford, an immigration attorney at La Raza Centro Legal, during a New America Media news conference on July 7. “Unfortunately they did not, but our message today is that we must not lose hope.”

The court’s decision is a frustrating one for those parties involved. Soon after Obama announced his executive action on DAPA and Expanded DACA in November 2014, Texas and 25 other states filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Brownsville Division, claiming that the president overstepped his constitutional executive authority.

Texas federal Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued a temporary block of DAPA and Expanded DACA, which the Obama administration unsuccessfully appealed in district court. On Nov. 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court in Louisiana upheld the district court’s ruling against the Obama administration, sending it all the way to the Supreme Court.

But after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia back in February, eight Supreme Court justices remained, offering the possibility for a potential split on court rulings, which is precisely what happened with the DAPA and Expanded DACA.

People who are still eligible for existing DACA (which offers two years of legal residential status) are undocumented immigrants born after June 15, 1981, who were brought to the United States before turning 16, and who have lived in the country since June 15, 2007. The DAPA and DACA expansions would’ve offered those temporary protections to undocumented parents of children who are American citizens or legal permanent residents born on or before Nov. 20, 2014, and parents who have lived in the United States since Jan. 1, 2010. Expanded DACA would’ve included undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children before January 2010.

“From what I had seen, personally, a lot of members of the community who would’ve potentially qualified had already expressed that [DAPA and Expanded DACA] was good, but they weren’t going to believe it until they actually saw this,” said Ana Morales, a recipient of DACA. “This kind of reiterated that there’s a lot of mistrust in the community and this decision kind of reiterated this notion that nothing positive was really coming from our government. So it was really sad to see that, and not only because of that but because a lot of families would’ve qualified.”

However, despite the non-decision from the Supreme Court, the original DACA program that went into effect in 2012, is still available for the millions that are eligible and is not affected by the decision.

“We want to reiterate that the 2012 DACA program is still a viable program and a trustworthy program,” said Annette Wong of Chinese for Affirmative Action. “It’s a program that people should come in and seek services for.”

In 2012, an estimated 1.2 million (now 1.7 million) people were eligible for DACA; Morales, who was brought to the United States in 1999 from Mexico at age 8, was among those 1.2 million.

Now 25, Morales recognizes that she’s privileged for having the opportunity to apply for DACA, which allowed her to travel back to Mexico in March to visit her ailing grandmother, the woman who helped raise her, in Michoacán.

“It was very sad, not necessarily because of me, but knowing that my mom can’t go. She doesn’t have this opportunity to simply apply and…be granted to go and visit [my grandmother],” Morales said. “I recognized that I am privileged, to be able to apply and go. It’s something that many people can’t do…leaving the country and being allowed back in.”

Story by: Alejandro Galicia Díaz