Op-Ed: Supreme Court’s Immigration Decision Is a Step Backward for N.J. and U.S.

This op-ed appeared in the June 24, 2016 edition of the Star-Ledger.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to effectively block the President Obama’s executive actions on immigration is a major step backward for the nation and for New Jersey.

The 4-4 deadlock means some 5 million unauthorized immigrants still face the specter of deportation and won’t be allowed to work legally in the U.S. More than 200,000 New Jerseyans will suffer from the court’s tie vote, and all of us will lose out on the economic benefits as a result. The fact remains: Immigration is an asset to New Jersey and the entire country.

Advocates will urge the federal government for a second hearing once a ninth Supreme Court justice is confirmed. For now, the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey’s governor and 26 states that sued the government based on the claim that issuing driver’s licenses would impose new costs on states. This is a hollow claim that fails to acknowledge a state’s ability to charge more for licenses, and totally ignores the positive financial impact the Obama orders would have had for states, through increased state and local tax collections. This majority red-state effort was supported by Gov. Chris Christie, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing the Texas-led initiative.

However, the decision seems to be based on ideology rather than facts.

The right-leaning justices claim that the president has no power to change immigration laws via executive action, ignoring the fact that every president since Ronald Reagan has changed immigration laws the same way.

Obama acted on his own after a comprehensive immigration bill passed the Senate in 2013. The House refused to consider or negotiate a comprehensive immigration reform with the Senate. After tens of thousands of unjust deportations, the president was forced to act, building on his 2012 executive order granting temporary opportunity to undocumented young adults who came here as children.

Obama’s initial order — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — allows young people who came to the U.S. before they were 16 to apply for work authorization and protection from deportation. In its first four years, DACA has helped about 20,000 young folks in New Jersey (and 728,000 nationally) obtain better-paying jobs, attend college and live without fear of being removed from the country.

This, in turn, has stimulated economic growth and helped boost the tax base. Just consider that New Jersey’s residents without proper documents to work pay an estimated $613 million a year in state and local taxes — a number that would have grown by about $30 million under the actions that were struck down by the Supreme Court.

The actions the Court halted would have built on the success of DACA by extending similar protections to some parents and even more young people via Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and by eliminating the upper age cap of DACA. These administrative actions would have allowed more unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States for years to contribute more to the economy and participate more in their local communities without fear.

These executive actions would not have granted immigrants who work in the country illegally permanent legal status, U.S. citizenship or federal benefits. They would have simply taken small, feasible steps towards making progress on a longstanding challenge — and improved millions of lives in the process.

Today, across New Jersey and the nation you will find U.S. citizen children disappointed that their undocumented parents will not get a chance to step out of the shadows — and they will continue to live in fear of being separated from their families and the country they call home.

You’ll also find many young adults who have been in the country for years but are too old for the original DACA, frustrated by having a crucial opportunity taken away from them by a political lawsuit. This decision not only hurts these striving immigrants and their families, but all of us who consider them our neighbors and friends.

To all who continue to be let down and disappointed by senseless immigration policies, it’s high time to put pressure on the Congress to schedule a hearing for the president’s Supreme Court nominee.