President Obama on Thursday decried a Supreme Court deadlock that effectively killed his landmark executive actions on immigration.
In a statement from the White House, he defended the sweeping actions as necessary to help fix the country's immigration system in the face of congressional inaction.
“The fact the Supreme Court wasn’t able to issue a decision today doesn’t just set the system back even further, it takes us further from the country that we aspire to be," he said.
Obama sought to act unilaterally to protect millions of parents of U.S. citizen and permanent-resident children from deportation and expand a similar program that applied to young undocumented immigrants.
But the high court tied 4-4, leaving in place a lower court ruling that blocked the programs from taking effect.
Obama said deadlock is “heartbreaking” and “frustrating” for the more than 4 million people who could have benefitted from the program.
But the president sought to use the decision as a rallying cry for Democrats in the November elections.
Obama all but conceded the court's tie ended the fight over immigration reform during his presidency, but he called the fall contests a referendum on "who we’re going to be as a country."
"We're going to have to make a decision about whether we are a people who tolerate the hypocrisy of a system where the workers who pick our fruit or make our beds never have the chance to get right with the law, or whether we're going to give them a chance, just like our forbearers had a chance, to take responsibility and give their kids a better future," he said.
"Sooner or later, immigration reform will get done," the president predicted. "Congress is not going to be able to ignore America forever."
He railed against Republicans for blocking consideration of his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, calling the split a “a very clear reminder” of the importance of having a full bench. He stressed that his actions won’t be able to take full effect unless there are nine justices on the high court.
“If you keep on blocking judges from getting on the bench then courts can’t issue decisions, what that means is you’re going to have the status quo frozen and we’re not going to make progress on important issues,” Obama said.
“Now that may have been their strategy from the start," he added, referring to the GOP. "It’s certainly a strategy that will be broken by this election, unless their basic theory is that we will never confirm judges again."
Obama also attacked Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE, for demanding tough restrictions on immigration. He dismissed Trump’s pledge to build a massive wall on the U.S. southern border and force Mexico to pay for it as a "fantasy."
“It is my firm belief that immigration is not something to fear,” he said. “We don't have to wall ourselves off from those who may not look like us right now or pray like we do or have a different last name. … What makes us Americans [is] our shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal, all of us have a chance to make of our lives what we will."
- Updated at 12:37 p.m.