A deadlocked Supreme Court decision that blocks President Barack Obama from granting amnesty to the parents of legal U.S. residents who are in the country illegally will deprive many of those people of the right to sign up for health insurance in California, analysts of the decision said Thursday.
Most immigrants who are in the country illegally already are barred from signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law widely known as Obamacare.
But many of those affected by Thursday’s decision would have qualified for the low-income Medi-Cal health program, which is open to those who’ve been granted temporary relief from deportation. Now, with Thursday’s Supreme Court action, that option is out.
Immigration advocates decried the court’s order, saying it would affect hundreds of thousands.
“We are heartbroken by the Supreme Court deadlocking on the president's immigration order,” said Anthony Wright of Health Access California, a health care consumer advocacy group. “The decision denies hundreds of thousands of California families deportation relief as well as access to health care.”
The decision came in a challenge to Obama’s 2014 immigration order known Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, referred to as DAPA. Under the plan, the president ordered the Department of Homeland Security to focus its attention on deporting criminals and people who repeatedly broke the law. The parents of individuals born in the United States who were in the country illegally were to remain unscathed.
The policy was intended to keep families together. But it was immediately challenged by Texas, which sought a court order from a federal district judge that prevented the plan from ever being implemented. The Texas district court’s order was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Twenty-five other states joined Texas in its challenge.
The Supreme Court offered no explanation for its decision, issuing a one-sentence statement: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”
The Supreme Court decision also will prevent the expansion of another program that prevents children brought to the United States illegally from being deported.
More than 4 million people living in the United States illegally are affected by the decision, though the government does not plan to step up deportations.
President Barack Obama, in an appearance before reporters, stressed that, “This does not substantially change the status quo.”
The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents would have allowed parents of children born in the United States or who are legal residents to stay in the country with three-year renewable work permits if they had been in the United States since January 2010.
An earlier program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, applies to children brought to the United States illegally and is not affected by the court case except that it shut down an extension of work permits from two years to three years.
In immigrant-heavy states such as California, Florida and Texas, politicians were quick to respond to the ruling.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who led the fight against the order when he was that state’s attorney general, called Obama’s 2014 order “an unauthorized abuse of presidential power that trampled the Constitution, and the Supreme Court rightly denied the president the ability to grant amnesty contrary to immigration laws.”
Similar accusations of presidential “lawlessness” also came from Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and former presidential candidate.
Politicians from California and Florida offered more nuanced reaction. California Reps. David Valadao and Jeff Denham joined Florida Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a joint statement that recognized the Supreme Court’s decision, but said it could not be the last word on the issue.
“We are committed to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all,” the statement said.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco called the Supreme Court action “a disappointing setback for hardworking, law-abiding immigrant families across America.” She pledged to work to end “the terrible fear of separation that hangs over immigrant families.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein used the decision as another argument for the confirmation of Obama’s nomination of Chief Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
“This decision makes clear the severe consequences of a deadlocked Supreme Court,” Feinstein said. “The refusal of Senate Republicans to fulfill their constitutional advise-and-consent rule is unprecedented. With only eight justices, the Supreme Court will continue to tie on important cases, leaving legal questions unanswered and perpetuating uncertainty in federal law.”
Underscoring the significance of the ruling, a “disappointed” Obama himself went to the White House briefing room to repudiate it, saying that the court could not decide because it was not at its full strength of nine justices. He blamed the Senate for failing to consider Garland’s nomination.
“For more than two decades now, our immigration system, everybody acknowledges, has been broken,” Obama said. “And the fact that 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.”
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski also expressed disappointment at a decision that he says “leaves millions of hardworking California immigrant families at risk” of losing their children or being exploited by their employers. Pulaski vowed that the California Labor Federation would not “stand on the sidelines captive to Washington gridlock.”
“The California labor movement will continue to champion state laws that protect immigrant workers from exploitation on and off the job,” he said.
Some officials were quick to bask in the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Today’s decision is a victory for the Constitution and rule of law as it was designed to be,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said in a statement. “In our democracy, the president doesn’t get to legislate by executive decree whenever the people’s representatives don’t give him what he wants. He has to follow the Constitution, which says laws come from the American people through the legislative branch, not the president. The decision today protects the American people from executive power run amok.”
But Los Angeles Democratic Congressman Tony Cárdenas, the son of immigrants, suggested that it is Congress that has run amok.
“I would like to see the United States Senate exercise its responsibility of having an up or down vote on the next Supreme Court justice,” he said. “In addition to that, what I’d like to see happen is I’d like to see the United States Congress and the U.S. Senate go ahead and deliberate and have deliberations and committee hearings and then a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.”
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker
Maria Recio, 202-383-6103 @maria_e_recio