Tana Quillupangui anxiously waited with her mother for the Supreme Court’s decision on President Barack Obama’s immigration reforms on June 23.
Quillupangui is an American-born college student—but her parents are undocumented.
The vote was a 4–4 tie, which affirmed a lower court’s ruling that blocked the president’s policy that would affect more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“I’m really heartbroken,” Quillupangui, 19, said from Queens, N.Y. “My mom has been in this fight since 1997.”
Her parents came to the United States decades ago from Quito, Ecuador. Her mother has not seen her other three children—now ages 21, 28, and 32—or her other family members, some of whom are sick, since 1995.
Quillupangui’s father is also upset. “He’s been working here for a long time,” Quillupangui says of her father. “My parents have contributed with their taxes.”
Quillupangui had hoped the nation’s top court would vote in favor of Obama’s immigration policies—which, in simple terms, would have meant better job prospects and a driver’s license for her mother. And neither of her parents would have to worry about deportation.
“This story would be so … different,” she said.
Obama said the vote on his immigration executive action “takes us further from the country we aspire to be.”
The president said the immigration system has been broken for over two decades, and that the Supreme Court’s decision is frustrating for undocumented immigrants who contribute to the country’s economic growth.
A program implemented by the president four years ago, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will not be affected by the court’s decision, but plans to expand immigration programs will be blocked.
Immigration reform won’t happen during the remaining term of this congress, but, said Obama, “Sooner or later immigration reform will get done. It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’”
House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the court’s decision, saying it validated the premise that “presidents don’t write laws, Congress writes laws.”
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said in a post on Twitter that the Court’s decision reaffirms that the president cannot rewrite the laws on immigration with executive action.
Others expressed their dissatisfaction with the result.
“I am deeply disappointed and dismayed by the Supreme Court’s split decision that failed to provide clarity and guidance, weakens families, and forces our communities to remain in the shadows,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
“This decision will go down in history as a low-point in our fight for a fair and just immigration system, and will have a major impact on the lives of millions of families across the country, including U.S. citizen children that will live in fear of having their families torn apart,” he said.
Menendez said the case emphasized the importance of appointing a ninth justice to the Supreme Court, following the vacancy left after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away earlier this year.
The president has nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the position, but Republicans have blocked the nomination from moving forward, at least until after the election.
Antonio Alarcon, who works for Make the Road New York, an organization that helps Latino immigrants and working class communities, is waiting to see what happens in the elections and says groups will continue to pressure both parties. He noted that in 2008 Democrats had majorities in both chambers but failed to help immigrants.
“We’re really sad, but it’s a pivotal moment for the community to wake up,” says Alarcon, adding that people should register to vote in order to help immigrant families.
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