LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO, June 23 (Reuters) - Immigration activists vowed payback in November's election as they staged protests on Thursday against the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that blocked President Barack Obama's plan to spare deportation for millions of illegal immigrants.
Obama, who unveiled his plan in November 2014 before it was quickly challenged by Texas and 25 other states that argued he overstepped his constitutional powers, called the decision frustrating for those aiming to fix the broken U.S. immigration system.
Groups that had backed Obama's efforts held rallies immediately after the ruling, vowing not to give up. A small group of activists gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, some holding signs reading: "Keep families together" and "Justice and dignity for immigrants."
See images of immigration protests:
Immigration has become a major campaign issue, with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and deport the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants if he is elected on Nov. 8.
Immigration reform is important to many Hispanic Americans, who make up about 17 percent of the U.S. population. They are a critical voting block in what is expected to be a tight race between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump on Thursday praised the Supreme Court decision, but Clinton criticized it.
In Phoenix, about 70 protesters blocked a street outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office after the court decision, waving signs and chanting: "Shut it down." Phoenix police said four demonstrators were arrested.
"A lot of families were hoping for relief. But seeing as there won't be any, we're calling on the president to enact a moratorium on deportations," said Rosi Carrasco, the Chicago organizer with the Illinois group Organized Communities Against Deportations, which helps immigrants understand their rights.
"He has got to stop the mechanism he created, with so much money, to deport people," she said in a telephone interview.
'VERY, VERY IMPORTANT ELECTION'
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said his group would encourage immigrants who are legal residents to obtain citizenship and vote in November for candidates who support immigrant rights.
Other pro-immigrant organizations previously set similar goals.
"Because there is a very, very important election coming up, we are going to remember which politicians and which individuals made of this very personal case a political football and we will make them pay a very high price in November," Cabrera said in a phone interview.
Obama's plan was designed to let roughly 4 million people - those who have lived illegally in the United States at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents - get into a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits.
The plan was never implemented after a lower court invalidated it in 2015. The Supreme Court's split 4-4 ruling left the lower court decision in place.
Alejandro Solis, 37, of Grand Junction, Colorado, who has three children who are U.S. citizens, said he believed he would have qualified for temporary legal status if the Supreme Court had upheld Obama's plan.
"It kind of made me sad because I can do much better than what I'm doing right now," he said in a phone interview.
The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization, said it was "disappointed and heartbroken" by the decision, which it said it disregarded previous uses of presidential discretionary powers.
But supporters of the court ruling said it was Congress' job to set immigration policy, not the president's.
"The Supreme Court was correct today in ruling that the president's unilateral executive order on immigration, and attempt to bypass Congress, was constitutionally flawed," Michigan's Republican attorney general, Bill Schuette, said in a statement.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute, which represents communities affected by illegal immigration, said in a statement: "Congress never intended for the president to dismantle our carefully-crafted immigration laws by declaring mass amnesty, giving out work permits en masse, and then claim he could never be challenged in court,"
(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Peter Cooney)