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After Supreme Court setback, immigration activists focus on elections

Supreme Court Immigration Las Vegas

Megan Messerly / Las Vegas Sun

Las Vegas immigration attorney Jocelyn Cortez explains the legal implications of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that scuttled President Barack Obama’s execution actions to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation on Thursday, June 23, 2016.

Updated Thursday, June 23, 2016 | 2:50 p.m.

Saddened, disappointed, scared.

Those are words Las Vegas immigration activists used to describe their emotions after a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court today essentially deep-sixed President Barack Obama’s initiatives to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The court tied 4-4 on Obama’s executive actions to allow some 4.5 million immigrants to apply for deportation relief and work legally in the U.S. under an expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, and a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program, known as DAPA.

The ruling impacts an estimated 90,000 people in Nevada.

The programs were introduced in November 2014 but were never rolled out after a Texas judge blocked implementation in February as a legal challenge wound its way through the courts.

Though Texas took the lead, 26 states, including Nevada, participated in a lawsuit arguing Obama acted outside of his authority and that the programs would harm the states. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt announced early last year that Nevada would join the suit. He did so, however, without the backing of Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Immigration activists gathered today at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas to protest Laxalt’s role in the lawsuit.

A couple dozen activists crowded into the lobby of Laxalt’s office and demanded a meeting with him. Laxalt was present at some point this morning, but he did not meet with the group and was not available for interviews with the media.

In a statement, Laxalt said that the Supreme Court’s decision puts the issue of immigration “back into its rightful place of Congress.”

“Hopefully this decision will yet again signal to this president that he cannot act unilaterally within our constitutional system simply because Congress in his view, ‘fails to act,’” Laxalt said.

A Sandoval spokeswoman reiterated the governor’s support for bipartisan immigration reform through federal legislation rather than by executive order.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s split decision, a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stands, meaning the programs are barred from going into effect.

But immigration activists vowed today not to give up their fight and to set their sights on the November ballot box.

“We had always said this November was going to be important for our families,” said local activist and Dreamer Astrid Silva, whose parents would have qualified for relief under DAPA. “We know that this Supreme Court decision is going to make people more aware.”

One way advocates hope to raise awareness is by sharing stories of Nevadans impacted by U.S. immigration policies.

Silva pointed to Yovanna Ozuna, 10, as one example out of thousands of kids in Nevada dealing with immigration issues.

Ozuna, a U.S. citizen, stood before television cameras this morning and described through tears how she was scared about her parents being deported. They would have qualified for relief under DAPA.

“Sometimes I’m scared,” Ozuna said. “I’m scared when I come home that my mom isn’t there or my dad.”

The Supreme Court vote quickly became a rallying cry for Nevada’s Democratic elected officials and those seeking office.

In a statement issued today, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called the court “hobbled” and said the decision “showcased the need for a fully functioning Supreme Court.”

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the failure of the Senate to consider the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, has left an even number of justices on the Supreme Court.

Until the Senate considers Garland, “this commonsense program will remain blocked and millions of families will continue to live in constant fear of losing a loved one to deportation,” Reid said.

Reid also called on the Justice Department to explore its legal options and for a new Supreme Court hearing once a ninth justice is seated.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto called the ruling “a setback for thousands of Nevada families” and took the opportunity to attack her Republican opponent, Rep. Joe Heck.

“If Washington Republicans like Congressman Heck had actually done their job and passed comprehensive immigration reform, DACA and DAPA wouldn’t have even been necessary,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

A spokesman for Heck said the ruling affirms the authority of Congress to write laws and reiterated Heck’s position that immigration reform should come through Congress, not via executive order.

“If meaningful solutions to fix our broken immigration system are to be enacted, Democrats will have to work with Republicans to create a system that works for America rather than relying on unilateral executive actions,” Heck spokesman Greg Lemon said in a statement.

Democratic congressional candidates Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen both characterized the decision as “disappointing” and used it to take a shot at their Republican opponents, Rep. Cresent Hardy and businessman Danny Tarkanian, respectively.

Rep. Dina Titus, who doesn’t face a serious threat in her re-election bid, said in a statement that millions of families have had to “remain in the shadows because of the GOP’s refusal to pass a reform bill in Congress and more recently a politically driven lawsuit.”

Activists will host a meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at the Culinary Union headquarters to inform immigrants about what the Supreme Court’s decision means for them and connect them with resources.

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