The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program – President Obama’s 2014 executive order regarding immigration – will not go into effect as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 23 decision. The decision also keeps the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from expanding. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in November 2015, upheld a district court’s order stopping the DAPA program, so the Supreme Court’s 4-4 split vote has the effect of upholding the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision.
The Supreme Court’s only published statement regarding the case – a single sentence – prevents the Obama Administration from implementing the DAPA program and leaves the fate of several million undocumented immigrants in limbo. DAPA did not offer a path to citizenship or even a green card. Instead, it merely offered qualified individuals temporary work authorization and temporary protection from deportation. Up to 3.6 million immigrants – mostly the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and of legal permanent residents – would have been eligible for deferred action under DAPA.
In June 2012, the Obama Administration initially announced the DACA program, which now shields undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before they turned 16 years old and who have resided in the U.S. since at least 2010. DACA offers those immigrants a work permit and two years of protection from deportation – “deferred action.” The original DACA program has not been legally challenged, but in 2014, an expansion of the DACA program – extending the length of deferred action from two years to three – was rolled out at the same time the DAPA program was introduced.
HOW DID THE DAPA CASE GET TO THE SUPREME COURT?
Texas and other states sued to halt DAPA and the expansion of DACA. A U.S. District Court Judge, Andrew Hanen, issued an injunction to halt the programs. The case then went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Judge Hanen’s injunction. The Obama Administration appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After the ruling, President Obama said the split Supreme Court decision takes “takes us further from the country that we aspire to be.”
President Obama added that there would be no 4-4 Supreme Court votes if the Senate had moved swiftly to approve Judge Merrick Garland, the president’s choice to replace the late Antonin Scalia. “Republicans in Congress currently are willfully preventing the Supreme Court from being fully staffed and functioning as our Founders intended, and today’s situation underscores the degree to which the court is not able to function the way it’s supposed to,” Mr. Obama said.
What happens now to as many as 3.6 million immigrants? Immigration activists are telling the president to announce a moratorium on deportations. “People are really upset and that is driving them to participate and to come out, and what’s happening is people realize without DAPA and DACA, something needs to happen,” says Hairo Cortes, a program coordinator at Orange County (California) Immigrant Youth United and one of the partners in the “Not1More” anti-deportation campaign.
HOW ARE IMMIGRATION ACTIVISTS RESPONDING TO THE DECISION?
The Not1More campaign is sponsoring a series of “Moratorium Now” rallies in favor of immigration reform in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and also in California. At these gatherings, those attending will be urged to vote for immigration-friendly candidates in November and to call or write congressional representatives about comprehensive immigration reform.
Paromita Shah, an associate director with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, told the Voice of America that, “This was a tie by the Supreme Court so there’s no precedent that has been set. There’s no precedent resulting from this decision, meaning that we don’t have any Supreme Court law on the merit of this program.” Still, Shah says there are still ways that the administration can help undocumented families.
“One of the most important things, and this has been said by some immigrant rights groups across the country, is that the president still can enact a moratorium on people deportation,” she said. “He still has the authority to do that. He can stop the raids. … Even though there’s a big question of what’s going to happen in this program now, there’s a number of immigrants’ rights groups including us that believe that the president can do things,” Shah added.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT WITH DAPA AND IMMIGRATION REFORM?
At the moment, the fate of the estimated 3.6 million undocumented immigrants eligible for DAPA remains in limbo. The case now goes back to Judge Hanen’s U.S. District Court in Brownsville. Judge Hanen has scheduled a conference with lawyers for August 22, after which he is expected to set a date for hearing the case. However, there’s now only faint hope that DAPA can be resurrected during the remainder of President Obama’s term.
If Judge Hanen’s Fifth District Court rules against DAPA, the Obama Administration could conceivably appeal the decision again to the U.S. Supreme Court. That would stretch the case into next year, and frankly, the matter probably cannot be settled until a ninth justice is approved to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. In the long run, the best hope of undocumented immigrant families is comprehensive immigration reform, but Congress has already spent more than a decade wrangling over the topic.
Efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform have repeatedly failed, and there’s now realistically no hope of Congress taking up the issue before January 2017. If opponents of immigration reform should prevail in November’s elections, it may be years before any significant immigration reforms can be adopted. On the other hand, should immigration-friendly candidates prevail at the polls, action could come quickly once a new Congress settles in. Democrat Hillary Clinton has pledged to proceed with DAPA if she’s elected. Republican Donald Trump has called DAPA “unconstitutional.”
Still, that’s in the future. Any immigrant in the United States who needs legal help now with protection from deportation, obtaining a work permit, a visa, or a green card, or applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship should not wait. A Las Vegas immigration attorney can provide the advice immigrants need now and can help immediately with any immigration-related legal difficulty. A Las Vegas immigration attorney can also help employers obtain the visas they need in order to hire international workers. Until comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality, immigrants and their employers in the U.S. will need all the help they can get.