WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court handed down a split decision in a case Thursday that will essentially halt President Obama’s plan to temporarily make about 4 million immigrants eligible to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
The high court’s decision could have implications for the business community. A large group of business groups and companies, including American Apparel, filed an amicus brief in support of Obama’s immigration plan.
But the president’s plan was successfully challenged and blocked in court by 26 states, led by Texas, asserting they would suffer economic injury.
With the 4-4 vote, the Supreme Court effectively left in place a federal appeals court decision that blocked Obama’s plan on the grounds that the President did not have the authority to implement such a plan without approval from Congress.
Obama issued an executive order in November 2014 instructing the Department of Homeland Security to expand the eligibility of people living here illegally to live and work in the U.S. and receive some government benefits, such as a driver’s license or Social Security benefits, without being subject to deportation for a minimum of three years.
The executive orders sought to create a new program applying to parents who have children who are legal citizens and expand an existing initiative for children brought to the U.S. illegally.
However, the 26 states won a temporary injunction in February 2015 from a U.S. District Court judge who enjoined the new immigration policies from taking effect.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the injunction in November, and the U.S. filed its appeal to the Supreme Court in November.
Several business groups and companies voiced support for the new Obama immigration policy, which represented an effort by the administration to use executive authority to enact reforms and defer deportations in the absence of Congressional action on an overhaul of the immigration system. The issue became a lightning rod on Capitol Hill and in the presidential race.
In a brief filed at the high court, 63 businesses, including American Apparel, argued in favor of the Obama administration, asserting that policies that “deny undocumented individuals lawful opportunities to contribute to the economy harm U.S. businesses, contribute to labor shortages and hold back economic growth.”
At the bottom of the brief, among the listed companies, American Apparel said it employs 7,800 workers worldwide and more than 4,500 in the Los Angeles area.
California has a large apparel manufacturing base and is in close proximity to Mexico, while New York also has a sizable apparel manufacturing base.
“American Apparel supports changes to U.S. immigration polices because many talented and experienced individuals could become available to American Apparel and other companies under the challenged immigration guidance,” the company stated in the brief.
Deferred action programs, such as the one the U.S. is seeking to expand, reduce uncertainty for U.S. businesses, which face penalties for the use of unauthorized workers, and allow them to contribute to the U.S. economy, the companies argued.
“The business community would benefit from policies that afford undocumented individuals — approximately 11 million of whom live in the United States — lawful opportunities to contribute to the American economy,” they stated in the brief. “Conversely, the failure of our political system to make progress on modernizing our nation’s immigration system has made it harder for U.S. businesses to compete in the global marketplace,” they said, urging the high court to allow the new Obama initiatives to be implemented.
They said that the large class of unauthorized workers — which they estimated to be over 5 percent of the U.S. workforce — is subjected to abuse from unscrupulous employers who refuse to pay minimum wage or fail to comply with safety standards.
President Obama reacted to the court’s decision Thursday, saying he was “disappointed” by the deadlock, but he stressed the decision will not change some other existing immigration programs or his enforcement policies and deportations that focus on criminals, as opposed to hard-working, law-abiding immigrants who have roots in the community.
“Although I am disappointed by the lack of a decision today by the Supreme Court — a deadlock — this does not substantially change the status quo, and it doesn’t negate what has always been the case, which is, if we are really going to solve this problem effectively, we’ve got to have Congress pass a law,” Obama said at a press briefing. “I have pushed to the limits of my executive authority.”
He vowed that immigration reform will happen “sooner rather than later,” though not under his watch.
“We’re going to have to make a decision about whether we are a people who tolerate the hypocrisy of a system where the workers who pick our fruit or make our beds never have the chance to get right with the law, or whether we are going to give them a chance, just like our forebears had a chance, to take responsibility and give their kids a better future,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to decide whether we are a people who accept the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms or whether we actually value families and keep them together for the sake of all of our communities.”
Obama said those questions will be left to the voters in this year’s presidential election, and he challenged the anti-immigrant rhetoric on the campaign trail.
“Leaving the broken system the way it is, that’s not a solution,” Obama said. “Pretending we can deport 11 million people or build a wall without spending tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money is abetting what is really factually incorrect. It’s not going to work. It’s not good for this country.”
The use of undocumented workers and the government’s scrutiny of it has long been a contentious issue in the U.S. apparel industry.