President Barack Obama slammed the Supreme Court and Congressional Republicans on Thursday after the 4-4 tie by the country’s high court blocked Obama's immigration plan to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Speaking from the White House soon after the ruling was handed down, Obama said the Supreme Court decision that effectively blocks his immigration plan sets the system back and "takes us further from the country we aspire to be."
He added that America has been a refuge for immigrants from throughout the world for more than two centuries.
“I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who made their lives here, who've raised families here, who hope for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military and fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way,” Obama said.
The president, however, sought to assure undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) or had Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection extended to them. The opinion, he said, doesn't change his administration's enforcement priorities.
Obama says his administration will continue focusing its enforcement resources on people who have committed a crime, and deportation for long-term immigrants who aren't criminals will remain a low priority.
“The deferred-action policy that has been in place for the last four years is not affected by this rule,” he said. “Enforcement priorities developed my administration are not affected by this ruling. This means that the people who might have benefited from the expanded deferred action polices, long-term residents raising children who are Americans or [are] legal residents, they will remain low priorities for enforcement as long as you have not committed a crime – our limited immigration enforcement resources are not focused on you.”
Obama also used his time at the podium to deride GOP lawmakers for refusing to confirm Merrick Garland, his nominee to the Supreme Court – saying that there would not have been a deadlocked decision on Thursday if Congress had given held a hearing on Garland.
“The Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision,” Obama said. “This is part of the consequence of the Republican failure so far to give a fair hearing to Mr. Merrick Garland, my nominee to the Supreme Court. That means that the expanded set of common sense deferred-action policies, the ones that I announced two years ago, can't go forward at this stage until there is a ninth justice on the court to break the tie.”
The Supreme Court’s tie was meant with widespread derision and anger from many so-called Dreamers that DACA was meant to apply to, immigrant rights activists and Democratic politicians.
“Today’s ruling is a setback for immigrant families and the movement that stands behind them, but this battle is far from over.” Maria Rodriguez, executive director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said in a statement. “We will fight back against anti-immigrant politicians at local, state and federal levels by mobilizing the more than 1.2 million eligible permanent residents in Florida to become U.S. citizens and encourage them to vote in support of the 11 million immigrants waiting for a comprehensive and permanent solution.”
Dreamer Giancarlo Tello told Fox News Latino, “It’s devastating. I’m still processing it, and I don’t even want to tell my parents about it.”
Both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, condemned the Supreme Court result. Clinton called it “unacceptable.”
In a statement released by her campaign, the former secretary of state defended the legality of Obama's plan, saying the ruling was "purely procedural." But, she added, it's a reminder of the "harm Donald Trump would do" to immigrant families and "how much damage" Senate Republicans are causing by refusing to consider Garland.
She said that, as president, she would "do everything possible under the law to go further to protect families."
While the Supreme Court ruling was met with widespread resistance, it did garner praise from some Republicans and hard-line immigration advocates.
The Republican National Committee said in a statement, “The Supreme Court has stopped an approach President Obama himself acknowledged 22 times he did not have the authority to implement and has reaffirmed that only Congress has the power to make laws.”
"The Supreme Court's tie decision, which blocks Obama's executive immigration plan, demonstrates that executive overreach has been reigned in," Robin Hvidston, executive director of We the People Rising, said in a statement. "Obama's sweeping immigration plan has been rendered null and void. This illustrates that immigration laws must be enacted by the U.S. Congress, not by the mere stroke of a president's pen."
Despite the setback, some Dreamers still appeared hopeful and vowed to continue.
“We’ve felt this defeat before,” Tello told FNL. “We’re going to feel the scorn and pain, but we’re going to come back and continue the fight.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.