The US Supreme Court has blocked a crucial Obama administration order preventing the deportation of nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants, and permitted them to work.
The court, currently down to eight justices split down the middle ideologically, said in a tied verdict on Thursday: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”
A lower court’s decision striking down the 2014 order, which covered undocumented immigrants whose children were American citizens or were legal residents, stands now.
Most of those affected are of Hispanic origin, but they are also said to include undocumented immigrants from India, with their numbers estimated to be in hundreds of thousands.
President Barack Obama reacted strongly to the verdict, calling it “frustrating” and “heartbreaking” for the millions of “immigrants who have made their lives here”.
Launched in 2014 under a programme called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), the measures ran into trouble with states.
Obama has said he resorted to this action in a executive order (invoking his presidential authority) after continued inaction in Congress to deal with the issue of immigration.
Lawmakers remain bitterly divided, mostly along party lines, on the question of legalising the status of DAPA immigrants and an estimated 6 million others.
Twenty-six states, led by Texas, challenged the order in district and federal courts. The administration went to the Supreme Court in appeal in November 2015 and lost.
“Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: One person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law,” Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said.