Undocumented parents and other immigrants will not get the relief President Barack Obama promised them, thanks to a deadlock at the Supreme Court. But they won't become the primary targets of immigration enforcement efforts, the president said Thursday while promising to maintain a "status quo" that prioritizes others for removal.
The court delivered a serious blow to Obama's 2014 executive actions on immigration when it failed to come to a majority opinion for or against an expansion of his policies to give conditional work permits and reprieve to certain undocumented immigrants, potentially as many as 5 million. That left in place a lower court's ruling, which block the programs.
It did not, however, block another piece of the executive actions: priorities Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that focus on recent arrivals to the U.S. and people with criminal convictions. It also left in place a 2012 executive action that grants temporary work permits to young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and are called Dreamers based on the never-passed Dream Act.
"Those enforcement priorities will continue," Obama told reporters. "The work that we have done with the Dream Act kids, those policies remained in place. So what this has prevented us from doing is expanding the scope of what we have done with the Dream Act kids."
The Supreme Court's decision -- or lack thereof -- applies to two policies that were announced in November 2014 but never implemented. The larger one is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA, which would have given three-year work permits to certain undocumented immigrants whose children have the legal right to be in the U.S. The president also aimed to expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to more undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
The lawsuit that blocked DAPA didn't touch the 2012 iteration of the DACA program, so it will remain in place in its more narrow form. It also did not touch deportation priorities laid out in 2014 that instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to focus on removing recent arrivals and convicted criminals.
DACA helps only a fraction -- although a significant one -- of undocumented immigrants, however, and being a nonpriority for enforcement is a far cry from actual protections or work authorization.
All of his executive actions fall short of what's really needed, Obama said: comprehensive immigration reform.
"It doesn't negate what has always been the case, which is if we are going to solve this problem effectively, we got to have Congress pass a law," the president said.
Obama predicted that immigration reform would happen eventually. But for now, it appears his efforts to change the policy through major executive actions are dead.
"I don't anticipate that there are additional executive actions that we can take," he said.