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Labor And Business Can Agree On This: Congress Should Act On Immigration

Businesses and unions often disagree on public policy. But after the Supreme Court's tie vote on immigration Thursday, company executives and labor leaders united to call on Congress to settle the issue.

The high court's 4-4 deadlock means President Obama's plan to defer deportation for millions of workers who are in the country without visas has been blocked. A majority of justices would have been needed to overturn a lower court's ruling that Obama's plan was beyond the power of the executive branch.

But the Supreme Court stalemate did not establish a precedent, leaving the door open for lawmakers to step up.

Without the Obama policy on deportations in place and no comprehensive immigration plan completed by Congress, employers have been left confused about which workers might suddenly be deported.

"Congress must tackle the underlying issues that keep our system from working for our country and our economy," said Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown, speaking on behalf of the Business Roundtable.

Business groups point to a 2013 study by Harvard's Center for Immigration Studies. It said immigrants added $1.6 trillion to the annual U.S. gross domestic product.

And unions worry that without legal clarity, people working in the country without proper documents aren't able to assert their rights on the job, and that makes them more open to exploitation.

"This is far from over," Rocio Saenz, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement. To win immigration reform in Congress, "we will continue to mobilize voters to elect leaders – from the highest office to the down-ballot."

The administration had wanted to defer deportation for those who have lived in the U.S. for five years, have clean records and are the parents of children who are either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. At a briefing at the White House, Obama said the Supreme Court's tie vote brings "frustration to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system."

Getting Congress to settle immigration questions has long been a top priority for the tech industry, which hires many foreign-born workers. FWD.us, a group of executives from companies like Google and Netflix, bemoaned the high court stalemate, and condemned congressional inaction.

"More than ever, Congress must step up and do its job to fix our badly broken system. We will work tirelessly to ensure that they do," FWD.us President Todd Schulte said in a statement.

The White House Council of Economic Advisors issued a report in late 2014 that said the Obama approach to deportation would expand the labor force by nearly 150,000 workers and real GDP by $90 billion over a decade.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, called the Supreme Court tie "a win for Congress." At a press conference, he said "the president doesn't write laws; Congress writes the laws."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka promised in a statement that to get Congress to act, "we will redouble our organizing efforts." Noting that Congress also has not voted on Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, Trumka said deadlocked vote confirms "our systems are broken and will remain so until U.S. senators do their job."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
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