The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked President Barack Obama’s actions to shield millions of immigrants and immigrant parents from deportation was a blow to the hopes of many who could have qualified under the initiatives.
But people who questioned the constitutionality and appropriateness of the president’s use of executive power said Thursday’s decision in United States v. Texas was a significant step toward affirming their views and dialing back efforts to allow immigration-law violators to stay.
An estimated 11.4 million immigrants were living in the United States illegally as of January 2012, the most recent figure available from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. About 28,000 immigrants on Long Island — of more than 3.8 million across the nation — could have benefited from the actions issued in November 2014, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
“It’s sad for me,” said Wendy Urbina, 31, an Inwood resident from El Salvador who, as the mother of a U.S. citizen, could have qualified to be protected from deportation. “It’s like we were given wings to fly when the president made his proposal, and now they come and clip them,” she said in Spanish.
Barrett Psareas, a proponent of stricter immigration enforcement who is vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association, heralded the high court ruling as “the right decision.”
“It’s a victory for ‘We the People,’ ” Psareas said, referring to the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, “because it’s coming to some sort of line and saying, ‘This is the line that you do not cross and this is what you have to do.’ ”
The Supreme Court, in a four-four split, affirmed a lower-court ruling against expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. Those programs also would have allowed qualifying immigrants to pursue work permits and eventually obtain driver’s licenses.
The court left in place a temporary injunction against Obama’s actions by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas, halting all aspects of the programs.
The high court did not delve into the merits of the case or specify how the individual justices voted. “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court,” its statement said.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in Washington, D.C., that seeks reduced immigration and stepped-up enforcement, said the ruling “is effectively going to run out the clock on the Obama administration” and what he sees as its permissive policies.
“It also throws the ball back into Congress’ court” to enact more limits on immigration and the president’s executive powers, Mehlman said. “We have an administration saying we are not going to enforce vast parts of the law.”
Supporters of the executive actions gathered Thursday at the Brentwood office of Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy organization, to lament the ruling. The group’s organizer, Walter Barrientos, vowed to continue fighting for local and state laws to protect immigrants.
Paola Zuniga, 31, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Riverhead for 16 years, said the decision was “sad and difficult at the same time.” Both of her children — a son, 9, and a daughter, 5 — were born here.
“It’s difficult for us not to have immigrant status,” Zuniga said. “It’s hard for us to work and to provide for our children.”
Jimena Martinez, 24, of Bay Shore, a native of El Salvador on Long Island since 2007, brought her 2-year-old son, Matthew, to the group’s news conference.
Asked how she is affected, she said in Spanish, “Mostly to have a license, to drive, to work, to study, to give my son a more stable home.”
Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group that favored the actions’ implementation, called the ruling “a crushing defeat for immigrants and for our economy and our country.”
Immigrant advocates said while the decision was disappointing, the fact that the ruling was not made on the case’s merits means that the legal fight will continue until the next president occupies the White House, and past the appointment of a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the February death of Antonin Scalia.
Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood, said the split ruling is “the result of the Senate’s unwillingness to do its job and to appoint a judge” before the end of Obama’s term.
“The immigrant population is very disappointed,” Young said. “These are people who wanted to come forward, who wanted to be on the books, who wanted to do the right thing. And I think most Americans want them to be vetted and to live here legally.”
David Sperling, an immigration attorney with offices throughout Long Island, said he’s counseling clients not to worry about deportations. The administration’s enforcement priorities are focused on those with serious criminal records and people who have arrived here since January 2014, he said.
“It’s a huge disappointment for millions of people,” Sperling said, “but there’s not going to be any immediate negative repercussions.”