5 things to know about the court's immigration deadlock

5 things to know about the court's immigration deadlock
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The Supreme Court on Thursday deadlocked 4-4 on President Obama’s controversial executive actions on immigration.

The tie vote effectively kills two programs that would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S. by leaving in place a lower court injunction that blocks their implementation.


Here’s what you need to know about what the ruling means: 

Who is affected? 

It’s not clear precisely how many people have been affected by the two programs, though the Department of Homeland Security estimated that 4.9 million people could have been eligible for temporary deportation relief.

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute put the number at 5.2 million — almost half of the entire undocumented population in the U.S. 

The first program is called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. It would have allowed parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent children to apply for a three-year reprieve from deportation and work permits. 

The second is an expansion of a 2012 program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows certain young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to apply for similar relief. 

Obama wanted to remove an age limit on the program and allow people who arrived before 2010 — instead of 2007 — to be eligible for relief. 

The 728,000 people who have received relief under the existing DACA program will not be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. 

Why did the court split? 

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February left the court with only eight justices. 

The bench is split between four Democratic and four Republican appointees, but the court published a one-sentence opinion that did not reveal which side each individual justice took. 

The court appeared to be divided on ideological lines in April during oral arguments.

Anthony Kennedy, a typical swing voter, seemed to side with Texas and the 25 other states who sued the administration to stop the programs. 

Senate Republicans have refused to hold hearings or a vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, arguing that the next president should pick Scalia’s successor.

While it’s impossible to predict how justices will decide cases, it’s likely Obama would have received a favorable outcome had Garland been on the bench.

What happens now? 

If a ninth justice is confirmed before Obama leaves office, the administration could ask the court to rehear its appeal on the nationwide injunction imposed by the lower courts.

Meanwhile, the case returns to the federal court in Brownsville, Texas, to be argued on its merits. 

Texas is seeking a permanent injunction against the programs. If Judge Andrew Hanen, who issued the initial injunction, again sides with the states, the federal government could possibly appeal that decision, and it could eventually work its way back to the Supreme Court. 

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The programs' chances of survival depend on who is elected president in the fall. 

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has praised Obama’s initiatives and pledged to continue their legal defense if she’s in the White House. She has even said she would “go further” than Obama has in using executive power if Congress fails to pass new immigration laws. 

“As president, I will continue to defend DAPA and DACA, and do everything possible under the law to go further to protect families,” she said in a statement Thursday. 

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has said he would do away with Obama’s executive actions, and on Thursday he expressed relief at the Supreme Court’s tie vote.

“SC has kept us safe from exec amnesty — for now. But Hillary has pledged to expand it, taking jobs from Hispanic & African-American workers,” he tweeted. 

The Republican standard-bearer has pledged a nationwide crackdown on illegal immigration. He has said he would create a “deportation force” to remove most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and called for the construction of a giant wall along the nation's border with Mexico at its expense. 

What do people think of the programs? 

Pollsters haven’t recently asked about Obama’s programs. But a November Bloomberg Politics survey showed 63 percent of Americans believe the president’s deferred action policy for young immigrants should continue, compared to 30 percent who said it should not. 

The programs are even more popular among Latino voters.

Trump built an energetic following during the Republican presidential primary with his hard-line approach to immigration. But his approach is not as popular with the general public. 

Two-thirds of Republicans back his call for a border wall, but nearly 6 in 10 Americans oppose building it, according to a new Public Religion Research Institute poll

Either way, immigration is likely to be an animating issue for voters in the fall. The topic was second only to the economy when Gallup asked Americans last month what challenge is the most pressing for the next president to address. 

— Lydia Wheeler contributed.