Hopes dashed for millions of [undocumented] immigrants after Supreme Court deadlocks

From The Washington Post

By Antonio Olivo and Pamela Constable

Every night after arriving home from her house-cleaning job, Yolanda Perez-Reyes checked for news about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could offer a way for her and millions of other undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

On Thursday, the nation’s highest court declined to authorize the deportation-relief programs that had been proposed by President Obama as a way around a years-long stalemate over immigration reform in Congress.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Perez-Reyes, who arrived from El Salvador 11 years ago and has two U.S.-born children, said in Spanish. “We came here out of necessity to give our families better lives. Will I be able to stay in this country?”

The 4-to-4 Supreme Court ruling continues an injunction that started 16 months ago against the implementation of Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program and an expanded version of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The court’s liberals and conservatives deadlocked, leaving in place a lower court’s decision that the president exceeded his powers in issuing the directive.

An estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in the Washington area would have been eligible to apply for three-year stays of deportation under the programs. A similar initiative launched by Obama in 2012 has shielded about 700,000 illegal immigrants — all of whom arrived in the United States as children, before 2007 — from the possibility of being sent back to their countries of birth.

Thursday’s ruling — with six months left in Obama’s term and amid a presidential campaign where the Republican candidates have taken an increasingly hard line on illegal immigration — left undocumented immigrants and their advocates despondent.

“It’s absolutely crushing,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program in Northern Virginia. “For so many people, this has been their chance at stability.”

As the challenge to Obama’s programs wound its way through the nation’s highest court, activists across the country launched street rallies, hunger strikes and counter-protests that have embodied the nation’s bitter divide over illegal immigration.

“It’s been like a mountain crossing,” said Ana Campos, 31, who left El Salvador in 2006, married a Honduran man who arrived in the United States illegally in 2008 and, in 2012, gave birth to a U.S.-born son.

Both parents would qualify for DAPA relief under Obama’s proposal. Campos has been among a group of would-be applicants who has showed up to the Supreme Court steps in Washington every Monday since the court heard the case in April.

Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, said the deferred action programs carried more than just the promise of temporary protections against being deported. It would significantly expand economic and educational opportunities for people who are in the country illegally, and ultimately could positively benefit up to 10 million people, including undocumented immigrants and their relatives, according to a study done by Capps’s organization and the Washington-based Urban Institute.

“Unauthorized immigrant parents have a lot of problems with autonomy at work, their working conditions, not being paid,” Capps said. “One would assume that, under the DAPA program, these things would improve.”

The issue has inflamed the presidential campaign this year, with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump calling for a wall to be built along the Mexican border and for most illegal immigrants to be deported. Trump had vowed to cancel Obama’s deportation-relief programs if they were upheld in the courts. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, said she would take Obama’s executive actions even further.

Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the Supreme Court ruling means that Congress will probably have to deal sooner with the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

The sanctioning of the programs by the Supreme Court would have introduced a dangerous precedent, Feere said, by giving the White House authority over what should be a legislative question.

“If you’re a member of Congress, you wouldn’t want the executive branch to usurp your authority over immigration in this way,” Feere said. “Write the bill; pass the bill. That’s how the legislative process works. Once you let that go, then it’s very hard to get that back if you’re part of Congress.”

For many of the affected families, the ruling means continuing with uncertain hopes of building a stable life in the United States.

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