Supreme Court immigration decision means millions of workers will be deprived of crucial labor protections

This morning the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in United States v. Texas, the State of Texas’s challenge to the most significant of the executive immigration actions—known as the DAPA and DACA+ initiatives—which were announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014. The Court was deadlocked in a 4-4 tie, which results in the Fifth Circuit’s decision being upheld, which had affirmed the District Court’s preliminary injunction that prevented the president from moving forward with DAPA and DACA+.

At issue in U.S. v. Texas was the president’s authority to defer the deportation of unauthorized immigrants who are the parents of children who are either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, if the parents have resided in the United States for at least five years, and are not an enforcement priority for deportation. This is known as DAPA—Deferred Action for the Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents. The president also would have updated and expanded DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative (in place since 2012), which to date has provided deferred action to over 700,000 people who entered the country as minors without authorization. Combined, over five million people are eligible for DAPA, DACA, and expanded DACA (sometimes referred to as DACA+), out of a total unauthorized immigrant population of 11 million.

Since implementation of the DAPA and DACA+ initiatives has been prevented, millions of unauthorized immigrants will not be eligible to apply for and obtain an employment authorization document from the Department of Homeland Security that allows them to work legally. This means that millions of workers will continue to lack access to basic labor standards and employment law protections—a terrible outcome for both unauthorized immigrants and American workers.

The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants in the United States are not recent arrivals. In fact, nearly two-thirds have been in the country for more than 10 years, and one-fifth have been here for two decades. In addition, the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are employed—and in fact, they account for about 5 percent of the U.S. labor market, working mostly in low-wage occupations. But because they lack work authorization, they cannot effectively complain when they are paid below the minimum wage or aren’t paid for overtime hours, or when their employer subjects them to unsafe conditions. Unauthorized immigrants know that if they complain, their employers can call immigration authorities and get them deported—that fear keeps unauthorized workers docile and quiet, which in turn diminishes the bargaining power of Americans who work alongside unauthorized workers.

DAPA and DACA+ could have provided new labor and employment law protections to four million unauthorized workers. The positive economic impact of this would have been momentous: If DAPA had been implemented, the average family with at least one DAPA-eligible unauthorized immigrant would have seen their income rise by about 10 percent, and the number of DAPA households living in poverty would have declined by 6 percent. Keeping unauthorized immigrants exploitable and underpaid by preventing them from accessing deferred action and employment authorization will only benefit rogue employers and corporations while keeping the wages of low-wage workers in the United States from rising.