Though it didn’t get a lot of press this summer in the midst of the Olympics and election-year politics, a Supreme Court case that originated in Texas continues to have big implications for California and other states with high rates of undocumented immigrant families. The Court’s 4-4 tie this June in United States v. Texas not only blocked President Barack Obama’s immigration reform plan, it effectively threatens to separate children from their parents.

What is—or was—the plan?

The Obama plan, issued via presidential executive order in 2014, would have affected 5 million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work legally in the United States. Parents and children would have seen protections maintained and extended through two specific programs:


First, it would have created a new program named Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would have applied to parents who are here illegally but whose children were born in the United States on or before Nov. 20, 2014. The parents must have been in the United States since Jan. 1, 2010 to qualify. The president’s plan would have allowed DAPA-eligible immigrants to work in the U.S. for three years at a time.


Second, it would have expanded a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has been in existence since 2012. The original DACA program applies to unauthorized immigrants born after June 15, 1981 who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and have been in the country since June 15, 2007. The president’s proposal would have expanded DACA, extending it to unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children before January 2010.

So rather than the June 15, 2007 cutoff for young people, DACA would have been expanded to include those who entered the U.S. before January 2010.

Families in the lurch

One problematic outcome of the Court’s 4-4 tie is millions of households have at least one potentially DAPA-eligible adult—the Migration Policy Institute claims more than 10 million people live in such households. And those households include some 4.3 million children under 18, an estimated 85 percent of whom are U.S. citizens, with many of those based in California. That means a lot of potential situations in the state (and also in Texas and New York, which also have high populations of DAPA-eligible adults) in which families face separation.

There is some good news: The Court’s 4-4 decision does not impact the original DACA program launched in 2012, and there is no expiration date on DACA benefits, which can be renewed. What’s more, undocumented individuals who are reaching the age of 15 and fulfill the rest of the DACA requirements are not affected by the ruling.

Moreover, the 4-4 tie in the Supreme Court leaves the case open for revisiting at a later date, when a full nine-member Court can reach a majority decision. In the meantime, little is expected to change regarding immigration enforcement and deportation actions. Both President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson say illegal immigrants who have criminal histories or pose a security threat will take priority in terms of who will be deported.

Meanwhile, with the election looming and no new legislation or executive action expected on immigration reform, the issue no doubt will arise again for the new president and the new Congress. The deadline for registering to vote in California is October 24th.

Image courtesy of Ryan Rodrick Beiler /