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Supreme Court Deadlocks on Obama Immigration Plan

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Thursday June 23, 2016 – WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday announced that it had deadlocked in a case challenging President Obama’s plan to shield millions of immigrants from deportation and allow them to work. The 4-4 tie left in place an appeals court ruling blocking the plan, dealing a sharp blow to an ambitious program that Mr. Obama had hoped would become one of his central legacies. Instead, even as the court deadlocked, it amplified the already contentious election-year debate over the nation’s immigration policy and presidential power.

The case, United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, concerned a plan to allow as many as five million unauthorized immigrants who are the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from deportation and provide them with work permits. The program was called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.

Mr. Obama has said he took action in 2014 after years of frustration with Republicans in Congress who had repeatedly refused to support bipartisan Senate legislation to update immigration laws. A coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, promptly challenged the plan, accusing the president of ignoring administrative procedures for changing rules and of abusing the power of his office by circumventing Congress.

“Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law,” Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, said in a statement after the ruling. “This is a major setback to President Obama’s attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law.”

For Mr. Obama, the ruling is a rebuke to his go-it-alone approach to immigration and effectively blocks any hope that his administration could protect millions of immigrants from the threat of deportation before he hands the presidency to his successor.

White House officials had repeatedly argued that presidents in both parties have used similar executive authority in applying the nation’s immigration laws. And they said Congress has granted federal law enforcement wide discretion over how those laws should be carried out.

But the court’s ruling most likely means that the next president will once again need to seek a congressional compromise to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. And it leaves immigration activists deeply disappointed.

“This is personal,” Rocio Saenz, the executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement. “We will remain at the front lines, committed to defending the immigration initiatives and paving the path to lasting immigration reform.”

In February 2015, Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Federal District Court in Brownsville, Tex., entered a preliminary injunction shutting down the program while the legal case proceeded. The government appealed, and a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans affirmed the injunction.

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