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Tied U.S. Supreme Court blocks presidential immigration action; U.S. bishops disappointed

scales of justiceA tied U.S. Supreme Court today blocked President Barack Obama’s 2014 attempt to bar deportation of about 4 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.

The nine-word decision in United States v. Texas upholds the injunction placed on the program in February 2015 by a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas. That state and 25 others sued the federal government after Obama in November 2014 used his executive action powers to postpone deportation of a segment of the total 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court,” stated the ruling issued by Chief Justice John Roberts. There was no indication of how the eight justices voted on the issue.

The high court is operating without its usual nine members after the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Obama has named a nominee for Scalia’s seat, but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to schedule confirmation hearings and most likely will wait until after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

The case was never tried in the original Texas federal court since the government appealed that court’s temporary restraining order to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. The case now returns to the Texas court, where the judge could hold a trial on Obama’s policy if the federal government does not file or is refused a petition for rehearing before the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in March joined 24 other faith-based organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief backing programs proposed by the executive action. Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB’s migration committee, called the decision “a huge disappointment.”

“It means millions of families will continue to live in fear of deportation and without the immediate ability to improve their lives through education and good jobs,” Elizondo stated in a press release, stressing that the focus should now shift to comprehensive immigration reform.

“People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status,” he said. “No matter how they got here, we cannot lose sight of their humanity.”

Obama in November 2014 bypassed Congress when he took executive action to expand an existing immigration program for undocumented individuals who entered the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 2007. This Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows applicants to get a work permit and safety from deportation.

Obama also created a new program for undocumented parents of American citizens and legal residents called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). This program would have allowed applicants to get a work permit and exclusion from deportation.

The original DACA program was not part of the case and is not affected by the ruling.

Update: The Obama administration asked the high court to rehear the case, but the justices nixed that request on Mon., Oct. 3, 2016 — the first day of the court's new term. The court is still operating with only eight judges.

The case now returns to the original federal court in Texas that levied the initial injunction against the program put into place by the president's executive action. It is unlikely that court will lift the injunction, leaving the program nonexistent.