Travis Co. families fear deportation after Supreme Court decision

The Ortega family worries their father will face deportation after Thursday's Supreme Court decision (Ortega Family Photo)
The Ortega family worries their father will face deportation after Thursday's Supreme Court decision (Ortega Family Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a major setback for the Obama Administration and supporters of immigration reform. Four Supreme Court justices agreed the President over-stepped his bounds by allowing parents who came to the U.S. illegally to stay, if they have children who are American citizens.

Now more than half a million people in Texas face a new risk of being deported, including 40,000 in Travis County.

“When Obama announced it there was a lot of hope, a lot of joy for us. All that went away,” said Luis Ortega,”This is our home now.”

Ortega was born in Mexico and crossed the border illegally into Texas with his family. Because he was only five years old when he called Austin home, the U.S. Government lets him stay, but after Thursday’s Supreme Court decision his parents could be deported.

“My dad travels all over the state of Texas. Every time he goes out we do live in fear that we might not see him again,” said Ortega. His dad is a construction worker.

“This is a huge setback for a lot of our families,” said Stephanie Gharakhanian from the Workers Defense Project. She says an Obama Administration program meant to protect people from deportation is now on hold. In 2014, The president said parents of children who came here illegally could stay.

Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the administration. He argued the president could not change immigration policy just because Congress can’t move on it. His successor, Ken Paxton, repeated that argument.

“One person can’t make that decision for the rest of us. They can’t unilaterally change the law. It’s just not the way a representative form of government works,” Attorney General Ken Paxton told Meet the Press. “Our constitution divides powers and gives different responsibilities to the president and Congress. In this case the president was stepping into the role of Congress and that was our argument.”

That constitutional argument suddenly becomes very real for the Ortegas.

“We have to keep living in fear of deportation for now,” said Luis.

Both Republicans and Democrats told us they expect this to be the final change in policy until after the election in November. Thursday’s ruling is not a final decision in the matter. It only continues a Texas judge’s injunction to block the programs. The question of whether the immigration programs are constitutional still remains before the lower courts. When the lower courts rule, the decision will likely be appealed and end up back before the Supreme Court.

Thursday’s decision underscores the importance of the missing justice on the Supreme Court, and who gets to choose the replacement.

Justice Antonin Scalia died in February at a West Texas resort. Since then, the court has not had its full compliment of nine justices , raising the chance of a 4-4 tie on closely contested cases. The next president will nominate the Justice to replace Scalia. President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland but the Senate has not brought him up for confirmation. They chose to wait until after November.

Donald Trump would likely choose a justice opposed to Obama’s immigration reform policy. Hillary Clinton has vowed to continue Obama’s policies, and would likely choose a justice who would support the policy blocked by Thursday’s decision.

Texas was one of 26 states suing the Federal Government, more than half of the country. But Texas did spend a lot of your tax dollars fighting this case. It spent more than $604,964 to pay salaries, $13,216 for experts, and $23,751 for travel, totaling $641,933. Those numbers are the latest from the Attorney General’s Office.

Many times, Paxton has said he doesn’t worry about cost when arguing what the constitution means.

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