clock menu more-arrow no yes

Watch: President Obama speaks on the Supreme Court’s 4-4 immigration deadlock

This morning, the Supreme Court tied 4-4 in the case United States v. Texas, effectively preventing President Obama’s administration from protecting up to 4.5 million immigrants from deportation and allowing them to work legally in the US. The ruling (or rather, lack of a ruling) is a huge defeat for President Obama’s legacy on immigration.

At 11:45 am Eastern, President Obama will issue a live statement on the Supreme Court’s immigration case.

Here's why the case matters so much for Obama's legacy:

Federal immigration enforcement has totally transformed over the past 20 years, and deportations have escalated accordingly — from 183,000 in 1999 to a high of 400,000 during the first several years of the Obama administration.

President Obama has spent most of his time in office trying to impose some sort of control on all of this — to make sure the government is choosing who's most important to deport, rather than arbitrarily deporting anyone Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents get their hands on. His first attempts — setting high and low "priorities" for deportation and telling immigration agents to follow them — were something both sides in the current court case agree he could do but that rank-and-file immigration agents frequently ignored in favor of their own judgment.

Near the end of his first term, Obama appeared to have found a tool that worked: allowing people to proactively apply for protection from deportation. He created the first deferred action program, DACA, in 2012; it's been solidly effective.

After comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Congress in 2013, pressure grew on Obama to use the tool that had worked — deferred action — to protect other groups of low-priority immigrants, and he did just that with DAPA and expanded DACA in 2014.

But the Supreme Court has just undone that attempt, resetting Obama’s immigration legacy to where it was at the end of his first term.

Over the past few years, the administration has quietly and quickly curbed deportations. They’re now closer to where they were 10 years ago. But the fact remains that Obama will leave office having deported far more immigrants than he protected — and having left those immigrants who are still in the US vulnerable to the next president’s whims.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.