SALT LAKE CITY — In a 4-4 deadlock, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday halted President Barack Obama’s programs intended to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation and permit them to work legally in the United States.
The tied vote means a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case, United States v. Texas, which had prevented the programs from going into effect, stands.
Utah advocates called the ruling halting the programs hurtful and disappointing, while some of Utah's elected officials call it a necessary check on the president's executive powers.
Utah Latino community activist Tony Yapias said the court’s ruling will further galvanize Latino support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who supports the approach.
“We’re very, very disappointed for our families. We were hoping this would be favorable,” he said.
The initial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, created by Obama by executive order in 2012, has been particularly beneficial to young Latinos in Utah, he said.
“It hurts. It hurts because DACA has done so many positive things for everyone. The dreamers themselves, many of them have completed their degrees and are working in better paying jobs that pay more taxes. We always say we’re going to get you out of the shadows. We get them out of the shadows and we know how much it means because they can do so much more,” Yapias said.
The Supreme Court ruling extends the injunction on an expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans initiative, which would have allowed millions of unauthorized immigrants who have U.S. citizen or permanent resident children to apply for deportation protection and work permits, too.
Utah joined Texas and 24 other states in a lawsuit to block the initiatives shortly after they were announced in 2014. Neither the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program took effect because of court rulings.
The states argued that Obama did not have the power to effectively change immigration law.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the Beehive State joined the states' lawsuit because "regardless of how you feel about the president's policy, it does not justify implementation in an unconstitutional manner.
"In this case, as in so many others, the president overstepped his authority in making law without congressional participation. Whether the policy relates to immigration, public school bathrooms, hydraulic fracking, water management or public lands, it is the role of Congress to pass national laws."
Kristina Ruedas, chairwoman of the Utah chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the ruling is "a huge disappointment for immigrant families in Utah and those who represent them.
"There will be countless families in our community negatively impacted by this lawsuit, which blocks the implementation of the DAPA program. Ultimately, this highlights more than ever the nation’s need for a permanent solution to our outdated immigration system, and that must come from Congress. We hope that our congressional leaders from Utah will make comprehensive immigration reform a priority.”
Reyes concedes that there are "serious deficiencies" in the nation's immigration policies, but "solutions should come through Congress, not by executive branch fiat. If Congress is ignored, any extension of benefits or rights is tenuous and subject to being withdrawn as arbitrarily as they were given. The Latino community and all Americans deserve better."
State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said Reyes and the state of Utah share blame for "this dreadful decision."
The decision leaves tens of thousands of Utah children in limbo, he said.
"I am saddened and sickened by this decision. It is only the most base elements of our nature that chooses vile political ideology over our Utah children," he said.
Ana Canenguez, a community leader in Utah who would have been eligible for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, said her "heart is heavy" as she comes to terms with the high court's decision.
"After fleeing violence in my home country and living in the United States for almost 10 years, my five children and I continue living with the fear of being deported and our family separated,” she said in a statement issued by the national We Belong Together Campaign, which advocates for immigration policies that keep families together and empower women.
“But the fight is not over. Undocumented women like me will keep organizing until our children can go to sleep without worrying that we will be taken away from them during the night. We will keep organizing to protect all of our families,” Canenguez said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, applauded the judiciary in a prepared statement for pushing back against "executive overreach.”
“In reviewing the Obama administration's unilateral actions on immigration, this case tested a fundamental premise of our system of government — whether the Constitution means what it says in giving the people’s elected representatives in Congress the power to make the law, or whether the president has the power to ignore, undermine and rewrite the law by fiat," Hatch said.
"I applaud the judiciary for holding the Obama administration accountable to the law and for striking a major blow against executive overreach.”
But Utah's Comunidades Unidas, which works to empower Latinos, called the Supreme Court decision appalling.
“The court’s decision means that as many as 5 million immigrants in the United States and between 40,000 and 50,000 in the state of Utah remain in constant fear of being separated from their families at any time, and possibly deported,” a statement by the organization says.
“Our families will continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform in spite of this decision. We will continue to defend President Obama’s executive actions from anti-immigrant politicians who have been waging a hate-filled war against our families. Our movement gets stronger when faced with anti-immigrant attacks. We showed up on Election Day in 2010, 2012, 2014, and we will again this year."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the decision indicates "the Supreme Court fulfilled its constitutional duty to act as a check on the power of the president.
"President Obama may have thought he could use a pen and a phone to steamroll the democratic process, but the Supreme Court has reminded him that there is a proper way to change our laws," he said in a prepared statement. "This reminder is even more crucial given that Hillary Clinton has promised to end almost all deportations categorically. In the meantime, I will continue to work with my colleagues to achieve real, step-by-step reform of our immigration system.”
Yapias predicts the ruling will further erode support for Republican candidates, particularly presidential candidate Donald Trump, “who was already having difficulty with Latinos.”