A Supreme Court ruling this past Thursday resulted in a rare 4-4 tie—a deadlock in a case that would have decided the status of over five million undocumented immigrants who are parents of citizens and/or lawful residents of the United States. 

The case, United States v. Texas, reviewed President Obama’s 2014 Executive Order known as DAPA—Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. The Executive Order was an ambitious immigration plan that allowed for undocumented immigrants with children that were lawful citizens or residents of the United States to be able to legally live in the United States and apply for and receive work permits. The work permits would last three years and be renewable. The plan did not, however, grant citizenship or full legal status. It only allowed granted temporary work permits. The Executive Order also protected the parents from deportation and allowed them to apply for driver’s licenses and State ID cards.

President Obama initially gave the Executive Order “after years of frustration with Republicans in Congress” that refused to support the Senate’s bipartisan immigration plan. The President took unilateral action to circumvent partisan gridlock in a set of Executive Orders—citing precedent of past presidents taking similar actions concerning immigration as a defense for his own. Immediately afterwards, Texas and 26 other states filed suit against the plan and challenged it on grounds that it was an overreach of presidential power and that it brought financial harm to the States

DAPA suffered early setbacks as lower courts sided with the State’s and blocked President Obama’s plan from being implemented. After the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against President Obama’s plan, the case was taken to the Supreme Court for a clear decision either way. Instead, as a result of the Supreme Court lacking a decisive 9th member following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court made no ruling and voted in a 4-4 tie. When a tie occurs in the United States Supreme Court, the decision of the lower court remains in effect. While President Obama can petition to have the court rehear the case, it is unlikely that the court will agree. 

The decision leaves the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants and their families in limbo. While it does not mean that the parents will necessarily nor immediately face deportation, it does mean that they still face the threat of deportation. The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans immigration plan would have helped ease undocumented immigrants into American society and would have prevented hardworking parents from being separated from their children. 

It appears that there is no immediate relief for the people suffering from an outdated immigration policy. President Obama’s plan was meant to help but was unfortunately unable to overcome high partisan gridlock. The courts blocked the President’s well intentioned efforts, denying relief to millions of undocumented immigrants and Congress has routinely refused to address the issue of immigration. 

Comprehensive immigration reform will instead require congressional action. Judging by the continuous congressional gridlock, this, sadly, seems unlikely as well.