Asian-American advocacy groups and elected officials voiced disappointment with a 4-4 Supreme Court split Thursday that will prevent President Barack Obama from carrying out an executive action on immigration.
The case, U.S. v. Texas, examined the constitutionality of Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), both announced in 2014.
The initiatives, halted last February by a federal court in Texas, impact at least four million undocumented immigrants, many of them parents of children who are legally in the U.S. Those given DAPA status, renewable every three years, would no longer face deportation and would be allowed to temporarily remain in the U.S. to legally work and access public benefits.
The court's tie vote, with Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February, does not strike down Obama's executive action. But the government will not have the authority to enforce the policies as the case wends its way through the lower courts.
Some 475,000 undocumented Asian Americans would be eligible to apply for either DAPA or the expanded DACA, according to the Pew Research Center.
"We will not give up the fight and urge the Department of Justice to seek a rehearing for when the Supreme Court once again has nine justices," Christopher Kang, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, said in a statement. "We cannot give up on the millions of families who live in fear of being separated."
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director Margaret Fung said her organization is urging the Justice Department to seek another hearing on the executive action when a ninth Supreme Court justice is confirmed.
"While the Court's split decision is a setback that has delayed the hopes of millions of undocumented immigrants and their families, we will explore all options in continuing the fight for immigrant rights," Fung said in a statement.
Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles, said his group will continue to provide free assistance to those who qualify under the existing DACA program, which is not affected by the judge's injunction.
DACA, created in 2012, temporarily removes the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrant children and also grants them authorization to work. Expanded DACA would lift the age limit on eligibility, so long as applicants arrived before turning 16. The current program requires candidates to be under the age of 31 as of 2012.
"Advancing Justice-LA remains committed to the fight to expand administrative relief to more undocumented immigrants, as well as the larger goal of an immigration system that ensures all immigrants are safe from deportation, able to reunite with their families, and treated with dignity and respect," Kwoh said in a statement.
Grace Shim, executive director of the MinKwon Center in Queens, New York, echoed similar sentiments.
"The anti-immigrant forces and the Supreme Court are ignoring a clear truth," Shim said in a statement. "Enforcement and deportation cannot solve the broken immigration system."
The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) called the 4-4 vote a setback for all immigrant families.
"Too long have undocumented immigrants been ostracized for their immigration status, and with this new ruling, our communities will still continue to live in fear and worry about being torn away from their loved ones," APALA national president Johanna Hester said in a statement.
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said Obama's executive action was necessary in the face of a gridlocked Congress that would not pass immigration reform.
"Today's ruling is a catalyst for the next Congress to act and ensure that all immigrants have a path to the full benefits of citizenship and allow us to live up to our core values of fairness and opportunity," Suman Raghunathan, SAALT's executive director, said in a statement.
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) were also critical of the Supreme Court's tie vote.
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the caucus chair, said the country benefits from immigrants who work, attend school and start businesses, and who are integrated into American society.
"And yet, because of our broken immigration system, millions are forced to live in fear that any day, parents could be separated from their children, or children could be deported to a country they've never known," Chu said in a statement.
"Deadlock at the Court, and deadlock in Congress, are denying hope and opportunity to millions of people," added CAPAC member Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) in the same statement. "This is not how our government is supposed to work."
Opponents of DAPA, including the 26 states that sued the federal government, argue that the president exceeded his authority by carrying out immigration reform by executive action. Last February, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking the federal government from putting DAPA and expanded DACA into effect.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hanen's injunction in November, and the Supreme Court's split vote Thursday lets that judgement stand.
In a statement Thursday, the Republican National Committee said the Supreme Court's ruling was a "victory for the rule of law and our democracy."
"The Supreme Court has stopped an approach President Obama himself acknowledged twenty-two times he did not have the authority to implement, and has reaffirmed that only Congress has the power to make laws," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.