Immigration Reform Stands Still

The Supreme Court’s recent decision on immigration, United States v. Texas invites discussion on three separate levels.

The immediate impact of the decision is that it closes the door on President Obama’s immigration plan to protect up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation as well as granting them the right to legally work in the United States. It is a disappointment to those affected who have made their lives in the U.S. and were hoping to participate more openly here. They now remain vulnerable to deportation.

But the decision also reminds us that Congress has shirked its duty to deal with immigration reform and that continues to go unresolved. Over the years Republican members of Congress have refused to support legislation to update immigration laws which is plain wrong.

In the case here the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision as it was a tie-breaker with a four-four split. No precedent was established and no reasoning was given. The Supreme Court was only able to confirm the appeals court decision.

This brings us to the second issue which is the refusal of the Republican Party to give a fair hearing to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Garland. While ever the vacant position goes unfilled the law remains frozen. The country looks to the Supreme Court under its constitutional authority to deal with questions that concern the law of the land and this is not happening. The political sabotage of the Republican Party is offensive by inhibiting the country’s ability to function effectively.

The third issue concerns the appeals court decision itself – the power of the president’s executive orders – which was the substantive issue under scrutiny in the case. Obama’s order, known as the Deferred Action of Parents of America (DAPA), would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for a program to grant them work permits and also prevent their deportation. What was under consideration was whether the president had the constitutional or statutory authority to implement such a program and bypass Congress.

The appeals court found that he did not have the authority as it would bestow on him the power to change the law. The president has wide authority over immigration, but that doesn’t extend to granting millions of people legal status. The authority of the president is not all encompassing.

The other substantive issue under review was that Obama’s plan failed to give notice or seek public comments regarding the program. The court ruled against him on that issue also.

Obama has not taken the result as a cue from the Supreme Court regarding his authority to use executive orders. Presidents have historically used such orders before when it comes to immigration.

The program is for the time being effectively shut down. But the lower court rulings are provisional so the decision may reach the Supreme Court again if and when it returns to its full capacity. As far as immigration reform generally or allowing the Supreme Court nomination process to move forward, the answer is in the wind.

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