Catholic leaders from around the country were expressing disappointment today in response to a Supreme Court tie vote that effectively terminates Obama administration initiatives on immigration that shielded millions from deportation.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, described the court's call today "a sad ruling." He said the president's immigration plan had been "the result of years of painstaking work and committed efforts by migrant advocates, grassroots organizations, some legislators and the faith community." The bishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, added that the court's decision exposes how current immigration policy in the U.S. "criminalizes and scapegoats immigrants who fight for a better life for their children and families that contribute every day to our economy and communities.”
“We’re extremely disappointed,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., the largest network of nonprofit immigration legal services programs in the nation. “The tied vote means millions of long-term U.S. residents continue to be blocked from the chance to live with their families without fear of deportation, while working legally and attaining a college education,” Atkinson said. “It leaves millions of long-term U.S. residents in fear of law enforcement and at risk of mistreatment in the workplace, by landlords and from abusers due to threats of deportation. Those people, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as children, will continue to fear interactions with law enforcement agencies and continue to face mistreatment in the workplace and other settings because deportation looms as a threat.”
Though the Obama administration still retains broad latitude on deportation policy and practice, legal experts have called today’s result an ambiguous and confusing political and legal decision that means many undocumented migrants must continue to live in a state of legal limbo.
The Obama administration's 2014 expansion via executive order of a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, had been challenged by Texas and 25 other states. With progress on comprehensive immigration reform stalled for years in Congress, the president attempted to assure undocumented families that they could look forward to some resolution to their status via executive orders which created the quickly disputed immigration programs. DAPA and DACA had the effect of protecting as many as 5 million undocumented migrants from deportation while creating a path to legal work permits. But a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled in November that the Obama administration lacked the authority to essentially create immigration policy without approval from Congress.
U.S.C.C.B. Vice President Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, described himself as "deeply disappointed" by the tied vote. "The deadlock of the Supreme Court on this issue," he said, "in effect puts millions of children and youth at risk and in constant fear of being deported.
"Simply put, our nation's immigration policies are broken yet our legislators have continuously refused to address the immigration issue in a comprehensive manner," he wrote in a blog post. "In their attempts to resolve this matter in a piecemeal fashion, our legislators have failed to agree on even the most basic of reforms in a bipartisan fashion.
"Respect for human life and dignity demands that our national leaders put people, especially children and youth, before politics," he said, adding, "The Catholic Bishops of Texas urge all Americans to pray and to urge our leaders of both parties to work together toward more comprehensive, humane and just immigration policy reform.”
Also "deeply disappointed" by a decision that puts "millions of families at risk of being ripped apart," was Dominican Sister Bernardine Karge of Chicago, speaking for the Washington-based group Faith in Public Life.
"The stories of immigrant families are intimately woven into the tapestry of this great country, and today's decision threatens our nation's commitment to justice and compassion," she said, adding that she hoped the presumptive presidential nominees and Congress makes comprehensive immigration reform a priority.
In a news briefing today, President Barack Obama said the country's immigration system has been broken for decades. “And the fact that the Supreme Court wasn’t able to issue a decision today doesn’t just set the system back even further,” he added, “it takes us further from the country that we aspire to be.”
Sister Donna Markham OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA said that the decision means that "approximately 4 million people, including individuals who came to America as children, will continue to live in fear of deportation and without the immediate ability to improve their lives through education and good jobs."
She added, “While this ruling is deeply unfortunate, my hope is that the decision will renew our national dialogue on addressing comprehensive immigration reform and bring parity and equality to all God’s children.”
“The Supreme Court had an opportunity to ensure that families are kept together,” the Franciscan Action Network said in a statement released today. “Instead, they have proven to our immigrant brothers and sisters that they must live in fear. They have shown Americans that it is acceptable to demonize those who are living in the shadows.”
The group's director of Advocacy Sister Marie Lucey added, “The Supreme Court's callous decision to tear families apart just feeds into the nativist narrative of 'us vs. them.’
“The United States is a land of immigrants and children should be able to live without fear that one or both of their parents will be taken away from them. This decision also shows the importance of having nine Supreme Court justices."
FAN described the ruling today as a “setback for immigrant families,” but added “the battle is not over.”
“FAN will not stop advocating for our immigrant brothers and sisters until every member of our community can live in dignity, without fear of being separated from their families.” The group called on Congress to once again take up comprehensive immigration reform and to confirm President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.
The group called on President Obama “to stop deporting our immigrant brothers and sisters who are escaping gang violence and war in their home countries.”
The court may have split 50-50 on the president’s immigration improvisation, but the U.S. public is far more sure of how it feels about establishing pathways to legalization for the nation's approximately 11 million undocumented residents. According to a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 73 percent favor the policies established by DAPA, that is, allowing illegal immigrants who are the parents of children with legal status to stay in the United States for three years without being subject to deportation if they pass a background check and have lived in the country for at least five years. PRRI researchers add, “Notably, there is majority support for this issue across party lines: 65 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats voice support for DAPA.”
PRRI adds, “Regarding the DREAM Act, which has a similar goal to DACA, two-thirds (66 percent) favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they attend college or join the military.”