Immigration Reform Struggle Continues After Supreme Court (In) Decision

July 21, 2016Adam Waters

Last month, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow when it split 4-4 over the constitutionality of the President’s proposed executive action to extend protections to certain groups of undocumented immigrants. The case, United States v. Texas, examined two programs: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and an expansion in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Because the Supreme Court failed to reach a majority decision, the lower court’s injunction blocking the executive action was automatically upheld. As a result, nearly five million undocumented immigrants that would otherwise have been eligible to receive protection will remain under constant threat of deportation.

Following the Court’s announcement, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, issued a statement expressing disappointment at the lack of a precedential decision, as well as his concern that millions of immigrant families with deep roots in the United States will still face being torn apart: “The Court’s action today is a setback for immigrant families,” he said, “but it also demonstrates that our woefully broken immigration system can only truly be fixed through legislative action.” Rabbi Pesner also reiterated that the Court is unable to fully function with only eight justices, and called on the Senate to swiftly hold hearings and a confirmation vote on Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

Despite the setback, the struggle to reform our immigration system and guarantee basic rights to undocumented immigrants continues. On July 18, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a petition for rehearing, asking that the Supreme Court take the case back up once it returns to a full nine justices. The Court only accepts petitions for rehearing in extremely rare cases, so it remains unlikely that relief will come from this strategy.

Additionally, the Supreme Court’s actions have sparked renewed interest in moving comprehensive immigration reform through Congress next term. On the day of the Court’s announcement, a group of nine Republican members of Congress put out a joint statement affirming that they are “committed to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all.” On the Senate side, members of the Gang of Eight that pushed an immigration reform bill through that chamber in 2013 have promised to try again next year.

This potential legislative opening means that it will be critical for advocates and activists to work in the coming months to build support for comprehensive immigration reform. As Reform Jews, we are called particularly to join in the movement for immigration reform because our tradition commands us: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong” (Leviticus 19:33-34). We recall our own recent history as an immigrant community in the United States and demand that others coming to this country seeking freedom and opportunity be afforded the same rights and privileges we have enjoyed.

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of the Court’s action on DAPA/DACA and what you can do to ensure that the struggle for immigration reform continues, join this webinar by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition on Monday, July 25, at 4:00 PM EST. Also see the RAC’s immigration resources at

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