This op-ed appeared in the April 14, 2016 edition of NJ Spotlight.
Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear an immigration case that could either improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans or needlessly tear families apart.
The oral arguments for United States v. Texas are based on President Obama’s 2014 executive actions, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action from Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The fate of these actions now hang on the eight-justice Supreme Court. A decision could come as early as June.
The executive actions were designed to decrease family separation by deferring deportation to about 5 million people, including 200,000 in New Jersey. But a year and half later, the pragmatic progress represented by this initiative is stalled, as are improved lives for millions of striving immigrants – all thanks to political obstructionism.
The lawsuit filed to block the president’s actions – a suit supported by Gov. Christie in a “friend of the court” brief – argues that these common-sense reforms would cause financial harm to the states, which would be tasked with issuing driver’s licenses to eligible immigrants. This narrow argument fails to acknowledge that states could easily increase the cost of licenses to cover the new expenses. But more importantly, it completely ignores the fact that the executive actions would actually boost – not depress – state revenues.
The case ended up in the hands of the Supreme Court after a federal judge in Texas ruled against the Obama administration and the Fifth Circuit upheld a temporary stoppage of the programs.
In the meantime the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans hang in the balance. Undocumented parents, who are the primary beneficiaries of these actions, are waiting while they live in fear of deportation and being separated from their U.S. citizen children.
Without pragmatic immigration reforms, these Garden State residents remain in the shadows, unable to fully contribute to the state’s economy and unable to live a life without constant fear. And New Jersey loses out on the economic benefits these policies would bring as well.
New Jersey, with one of the highest undocumented population in the country, would collect more taxes under this executive action on immigration. Currently, undocumented residents pay about $590 million a year in state and local taxes – which would increase by an estimated $24 million under the executive actions.
So what will the high court do? While most experts are convinced that the actions are legal, and that the court will rule in favor of common-sense policies not rhetoric, only time will tell. Justice Scalia’s death left the Supreme Court with eight justices, so a tie vote is increasingly possible, which would send the case back to the Fifth Circuit that already blocked the programs.
A tie or a 5-3 vote against the programs would put more pressure on the next president to come up with a solution to deal with the reality of our current immigration system that continues to break up families.
The court’s decision will disproportionately impact New Jersey, as home to one of the largest undocumented populations in the nation. New Jersey needs federal policies that embody common sense and a humane approach for our neighbors who live in fear of being separated from their families and the communities they call home.