President Barack Obama said Thursday that despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s tie vote, which essentially blocks his immigration plan, the millions of illegal immigrants that he sought to make legal with his executive action will remain a low priority for deportation by his administration.
“Enforcement priorities developed by my administration are not affected by this ruling. This means that the people who might have benefited from the expanded deferred action policies – long-term residents raising children who are Americans or legal residents – they will remain low priorities for enforcement. As long as you have not committed a crime, our limited immigration enforcement resources are not focused on you,” he said.
The tie vote leaves in place the ruling of the federal appeals court in New Orleans, which said the administration lacked the authority to shield up to 4 million immigrants from deportation and allow them to obtain work permits without congressional approval, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Obama said the decision “is frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system and to allow people to come out of the shadows and lift this perpetual cloud on them.”
“For more than two decades now, our immigration system – everybody acknowledges – has been broken, and the fact that the Supreme Court wasn’t able to issue a decision today doesn’t just set this system back even further, it takes us further from the country we aspire to be,” the president said.
Obama said that since Congress was unable to pass commonsense comprehensive immigration reform, he was “left with little choice but to take steps within my existing authority to make our immigration system smarter, fairer, and more just.”
“Four years ago, we announced that those who are our lowest priorities for enforcement – diligent, patriotic, young Dreamers, who grew up pledging allegiance to our flag should be able to apply to work here and study here and pay their taxes here. More than 730,000 lives have been changed as a result,” he said.
“These are students. They’re teachers. They’re doctors. They’re lawyers. They’re Americans in every way but on paper, and fortunately, today’s decision does not affect this policy. It does not affect the existing Dreamers,” Obama said.
“Two years ago, we announced a similar expanded approach for others who are also low priorities for enforcement. We said that if you’ve been in America more than 5 years with children who are Americans or legal citizens, then you too can come forward, get right with the law, and work in this country temporarily without fear of deportation,” the president said.
“Both were the kinds of actions taken by Republican and Democratic presidents over the past half century. Neither granted anybody a free pass. All they did was focus our enforcement resources – which are necessarily limited – on the highest priorities – convicted criminals, recent border crossers, and threats to our national security,” he added.
“As disappointing as it was to be challenged for taking the kinds of actions that other administrations have taken, the country was looking to the Supreme Court to resolve the important legal questions raised in this case. Today, the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision,” Obama said, blaming the court’s tie vote in part on Republicans for not giving his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, an up-or-down vote.
“This is part of the consequence of the Republican failure so far to give a fair hearing to Mr. Merrick Garland, my nominee to the Supreme Court. That means that the expanded set of commonsense deferred action policies – the ones that I announced two years ago – can’t go forward at this stage until there is a 9th justice on the court to break a tie,” he said.
“I know a lot of people are going to be disappointed today, but it is important to understand what today means. The deferred action policy that has been in place for the last four years is not affected by this rule,” Obama said.
“Enforcement priorities developed by my administration are not affected by this ruling. This means that the people who might have benefited from the expanded deferred action policies – long-term residents raising children who are Americans or legal residents – they will remain low priorities for enforcement,” he said, adding that those illegals will not be deported as long as they “have not committed a crime.”
The president said the passage of bipartisan immigration reform “is obviously not going to happen during the remainder of this Congress.”
“We don’t have a Congress that agrees with us on this, nor do we have a Congress that agrees to do its most basic of jobs under the Constitution, which is to consider nominations,” Obama said.
“Republicans in Congress currently are willfully preventing the Supreme Court from being fully staffed and functioning as our founders intended, and today’s situation underscores the degree to which the court is not able to function the way it’s supposed to. The court’s inability to reach a decision in this case is a very clear reminder of why it’s so important for the Supreme Court to have a full bench,” he added.