This story is over 5 years old.


A split Supreme Court just derailed Obama's deportation protections

The reforms would have offered deportation relief to about 5 million of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Defensores migrantes afuera de la Suprema Corte en Washington DC, 15 de enero 2016. (Imagen por Michael Reynolds/EPA).

After 23 years living in Florida, raising two US citizen children, and studying for her GED, Beatriz Perez considers herself an American. She hoped the US would finally treat her like one as well, since President Obama in 2014 announced sweeping immigration reform to benefit undocumented individuals like Perez.

"This could change my life profoundly. I'd have better opportunities, a good job, something I want to do. I'm prepared to go work in a school — it's what I've always desired to do and what I studied in Mexico," Perez, 50, said of Obama's executive action.


But two years after Obama tried to institute the reforms, the Supreme Court split 4-4 on the case, a tie that leaves in place a lower court ruling that blocks the White House's administrative action.

The reforms would have offered deportation relief to about 5 million of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. It would have benefited parents of US citizen children who have lived in the country continually since 2010, under a program called the Deferred Action for Parent Arrivals (DAPA), and youths who have lived here since 2010 and came into the US at age 16 or younger, in a program called expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Speaking after the ruling on Thursday, Obama said the outcome "takes us further from the country we aspire to be." He said the US has been a refuge for immigrants from around the world for more than two centuries, and said newcomers have made the US more diverse and inclusive.

The president ruled out the possibility of issuing another executive action on immigration, but predicted the US system will eventually be overhauled, saying it's not a matter of "if" but "when."

Obama's plan was challenged by Texas and 25 other states that argued he exceeded his authority in bypassing Congress to take the actions. A federal judge put the reforms on hold in February 2015, just before they were due to begin.

Related: Supreme Court overturns conviction of black death row inmate because of all-white jury


"The president has violated the Constitution, and we are trying to prevent the president from implementing executive action that we believe is lawless," Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said at the time.

For Perez and others eligible for DAPA and DACA, the court's deadlock was a devastating blow following decades of struggle to stay with their families in the US.

"Every time I've had to go out on the street to go to work or even to the doctor, I've had fear that a police would stop me and send me to jail. At one moment I thought I'd have to return to Mexico because it was so difficult here without papers, but my kids began to study, to have their relationships here," Perez said of her four children, two of whom are US citizens and were born in the country.

"I stayed in the country because they had a lot of enthusiasm in school and a vision of a beautiful future."

Amalia Rios Cordero, who has three US citizen children and works 10-hour days picking blueberries in California, echoed Perez's sentiment that her "life would have changed" with DAPA's passage. Cordero moved to the country in 1992 after her husband was murdered in Mexico, and said she feared deportation daily.

"It's a sadness for me," Cordero, 54, said of the Supreme Court decision. "The life of a farmworker is suffering, but it was my hope to get better work and to be with my kids."

Related: The Supreme Court just cleared the way for more assault rifle bans


And for longtime Wisconsin resident Julio Basurto, the undocumented father of 15-year-old twins who were born in the States, DAPA would have helped him and his wife purchase the prescription medicine one of the children needs.

"My daughter is hyperactive and needs controlled medicine, which is so difficult to get since we don't have identification…and every time we drive we have to take precautions since we haven't been able to get licenses," Basurto, 54, explained of the restrictions on undocumented individuals. "We just want to live inside the law--it would help us take our children to school and to look for medicine.

The rejection of DAPA and expanded DACA also deprives the nation of a financially profitable opportunity, said Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Analyst for the National Council on La Raza. Through DAPA and DACA, millions of individuals would have gotten received permits and therefore had the chance to get better jobs, therefore contributing further to the economy. The reform would have increased the US's GDP by $230 billion over the next 10 years, the Center for American Progress projected.

"States will lose money that could have gone into their tax coffers, and states will not be able to see that extra economic input that would have been made if individuals had been able to apply for DAPA and DACA," Vazquez told VICE News.

While the court decision deals a blow to millions of undocumented residents, advocates said many individuals may actually qualify for some other form of deportation relief without realizing it. She said that when Obama successfully passed the first round of DAPA in 2012 — which applied to youths brought into the country before June of 2007 — about 15 percent of DACA applicants found they qualified for additional forms of immigration relief.


Related: Sonia Sotomayor rips US policing practices in blistering Supreme Court dissent

"We'd encourage immigrants to go for a legal screening to see what their options are," said Karolyn Talbert, Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center's Immigrant Legal Defense Project. "There are other visas, such as U-visas for victims of violence, and family-based processing."

Talbert also asserted that the immigrant community would continue to push Congress or the next president to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to give all 11 million undocumented residents a path to citizenship.

And Perez, who has become active in the immigrant rights movement through the organization United We DREAM, said she won't allow the court's decision to discourage her.

"I feel sad but not conquered. I know many organizations are fighting for us. They're not going to take town their arms, and neither am I — I'm going to mobilize many people in the community to give us more will to keep fighting," Perez said. "I've seen lots of small victories so I believe in the power of our community."

Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman