Editorial: Casualties of a broken Congress, Supreme Court

The Supreme Court's nondecision on immigration is a loss for millions of undocumented immigrants whose families will continue to live in the shadows across Florida and the nation. New York Times
The Supreme Court's nondecision on immigration is a loss for millions of undocumented immigrants whose families will continue to live in the shadows across Florida and the nation.New York Times
Published
Updated

The shorthanded U.S. Supreme Court's nondecision on immigration Thursday is a stinging political defeat for President Barack Obama. But it is a worse loss for millions of undocumented immigrants whose families will continue to live in the shadows across Florida and the nation. It's up to voters in November to send a message that they want Congress to act on bipartisan immigration reform and the Supreme Court to be fully functioning rather than held political hostage.

In one sentence, the deadlocked court killed hopes for a normal life for undocumented immigrants who are working in our communities and whose children are attending our schools. It left unresolved the basic challenge to the president's clear authority to set immigration policy. And it underscored the need for comprehensive immigration legislation from a Congress that has been an utter failure. No wonder voters of all political stripes are so frustrated.

The Supreme Court's latest failure to reach a decision lets stand a lower court ruling that Obama exceeded his authority with his 2014 immigration orders. One order covered about 3.6 million parents of children who are Americans or legal permanent residents — including many parents who came to this country illegally at least five years ago but whose children were born here. Now those families remain in limbo, with the children in constant fear their parents could be rounded up and deported. That is inhumane, and it only forces those parents to continue to work at low-wage jobs while looking over their shoulders.

Also set aside by the court's nonaction Thursday is the expansion of the so-called Dreamers who were brought here as children illegally. It affects about 300,000 older immigrants and those who arrived more recently — but it does not affect about 1.2 million Dreamers who were granted protection under Obama's 2012 executive order. The bottom line is that nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants, including more than 250,000 in Florida, will remain unprotected even though they have been living quietly in our neighborhoods for years and picking crops, cleaning hotel rooms, cooking in restaurants and working construction.

Florida's hands are not clean in this cruelty. It is one of more than two dozen states that filed the lawsuit that triggered the lower court rulings against Obama's executive orders. While Obama pledged Thursday to make it a low priority to deport undocumented immigrants who obey the law and would have qualified for protection, imagine the impact on Florida's economy if these workers magically disappeared. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam candidly acknowledged several years ago that the vast majority of the field workers in Florida are likely undocumented.

Obama's executive orders pushed the limits of the president's authority, but there is a credible argument that the executive branch has wide latitude to set immigration policy. And the president acted only after bipartisan immigration reforms that passed the Senate were blocked by House Republicans who refused to schedule a vote. Now Senate Republicans are blocking confirmation hearings for Obama's Supreme Court nominee, federal appellate Judge Merrick Garland. The Supreme Court remains one justice short since the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year, unable to break 4-4 deadlocks.

Because of the obstructionist tactics of congressional Republicans, the nation still has a broken immigration system. It has a Supreme Court incapable of reaching final decisions on key issues. And it has a Congress so divided that Democrats engaged in a remarkable sit-in Wednesday night in the House chambers to try to force a vote on gun control.

Something has got to change.

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