It may not yet be end of the road for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+). On July 18, the Department of Justice filed with the US Supreme Court a petition to rehear United States versus State of Texas.
In its petition, the Department of Justice argued that “the Court should grant rehearing to provide for a decision by the Court when it has a full complement of Members, rather than allow a nonprecedential affirmance by an equally divided Court to leave in place a nationwide injunction of such significance.”
The petition underscored that although it is exceedingly rare, it is not a new practice for the Court to grant a rehearing. In the past, it has also granted rehearing in other cases especially when the court was unable to obtain a decision due to a vacancy. It was not also uncommon that upon reargument, a majority vote was arrived at.
The petition highlighted the immediacy of the resolution of the case. With the Supreme Court’s deadlock on the issue, the preliminary injunction issued on February 16, 2015 by US district court Judge Andrew Hanen which was later affirmed on appeal by the Fifth Circuit, stays. And although the Fifth Circuit is only made up of three states— Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, the injunction nevertheless effectively halted the implementation of the two immigration initiatives introduced by Pres. Barack Obama back in 2014.
“The preliminary injunction prohibits the government from implementing the Guidance anywhere nationwide; there is no reason to expect that the district court would issue a permanent injunction that is narrower. Unless the Court resolves this case in a precedential manner, a matter of ‘great national importance’ involving an ‘unprecedented and momentous’ injunction barring implementation of the Guidance will have been effectively resolved for the country as a whole by a court of appeals that has divided twice, with two judges voting for petitioners and two for respondent States,” the petition stated.
This is a welcome development and one that has given a glimmer of hope to potential recipients. However, the rehearing depends on the confirmation of a ninth judge which may happen after the November US Presidential elections. The Court could dismiss the case for lack of standing of the plaintiff or reverse the decision of the Fifth Circuit thus allowing DAPA/DACA + to be implemented. It could also affirm the Circuit’s decision and uphold the injunction and the case would go back to the district court whose decision could eventually be appealed to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court a second time.
While waiting for this new development to take some steps forward, it must also be noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not affect the president’s authority to establish priorities for the enforcement of immigration laws and the grant of deferred action. Shortly after the SC made its decision, Obama clarified that undocumented immigrant who are otherwise qualified under DAPA and DACA+ and have no criminal conviction, are still among the lowest priority for deportation. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) therefore still has authority to review and grant individual request for deferred action.
The decision also did not affect the DACA which was announced by Obama back in 2012. Those who meet the program’s criteria established in 2012 may continue to apply – both first-time applicants and the DACA recipients who seek to renew their deferred action and employment authorization.
Based on estimates, there are about four million undocumented immigrants who could have benefited from DAPA and DACA+. Of that figure, there are still those who can avail of other forms of deportation relief. In fact, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), 14.3% of DACA-eligible population may qualify for other forms of relief, even more permanent than DACA+ and DAPA.