Court's Immigration Verdict Raises Election Stakes

Court's Immigration Verdict Raises Election Stakes
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The Supreme Court’s split immigration decision Thursday, which effectively ended the Obama administration’s efforts to selectively protect some undocumented workers living in the country, cheered many conservatives while also throwing gasoline on an already incendiary political battlefield.

President Obama, reacting to the split vote on the eight-member high court, said his administration’s expanded deportation waiver program for relatives of Americans (along with some undocumented people who are separately protected from deportation) would not go forward during the remainder of his presidency. No new executive action on immigration would occur on his watch, he added.

Obama also suggested that his nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court was unlikely to be confirmed by the Senate this year, leaving to the next president the task of seating a ninth justice.

It was the first time the president appeared to publicly concede that Republican opposition to confirming any nominee before the next election was a political impasse he could not overcome, despite public support for his view that the Senate should hold hearings and vote on Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February.

Hillary Clinton repeated her support for Obama’s reliance on his executive authority to defer certain illegal migrants from deportation as both humane and necessary in the absence of legislative reforms blocked in Congress. She vowed, if elected president, to use her executive authority to the limits of the law while simultaneously pursuing immigration changes in Congress.

If elected, immigration issues would be as challenging for Clinton as they have been for Obama without major changes in the political makeup of the House and Senate or a resolution of deep divisions within the electorate about how to deal with 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the shadows in the United States.

In a statement, Clinton noted that Donald Trump has vowed to erase Obama’s executive actions on immigration, while she would retain and seek to expand them. She did not say how she would accomplish those aims without a like-minded majority on the Supreme Court, or new law settling the disputes posed by Obama’s deferred-deportation programs for some undocumented children and parents, known as DACA and DAPA.

The Supreme Court’s 4-4 deadlock Thursday effectively voided the DAPA program, which the Obama administration had not actually begun to implement because of its contested legal status. The court’s decision did not impact the DACA protections covering close to 800,000 so-called DREAMers in the United States, who can work without fear of being deported through the remainder of Obama’s term.

“As president, I will continue to defend DAPA and DACA, and do everything possible under the law to go further to protect families,” Clinton said. “It is also why I will introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship within my first 100 days.”

Trump, whose promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico is a central point in his proposed crackdown on illegal immigration, hailed the court ruling in a tweet: “SC has kept us safe from exec amnesty--for now. But Hillary has pledged to expand it, taking jobs from Hispanic & African-American workers.”

Obama pointed to the already ferocious debate about immigration during his presidency and throughout this election year as a festering economic and national security challenge that would have to be addressed by a new Congress and a future administration. The Nov. 8 elections could show the way forward, he said.

“I have pushed to the limits of my executive authority,” he told reporters in the White House briefing room. “We now have to have Congress act. And hopefully we are going to have a vigorous debate during this election. This is how democracy is supposed to work. And there will be a determination as to which direction we go in.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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