Maine immigration advocates say they are disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-4 vote that kept President Obama’s immigration plan stalled in the courts, dealing a major blow to efforts to give some undocumented immigrants the ability to legally work in the U.S.

Mufalo Chitam, who legally immigrated to the United States in 2000 from Zambia and who helps women integrate into American society, said the lower court’s ruling, which will stand because of the Supreme Court deadlock, will make it harder to obtain work permits, which are key to becoming a part of society.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Chitam, of South Portland. “It is saddening to see how immigration issues continue … to divide us as a nation, when all we should be striving for as communities in a nation is unity.” Chitam works as a sales coordinator for the American Red Cross.

Nationally, about 4 million illegal immigrants were awaiting word from the Supreme Court that would have shielded them from deportation and allowed them to work legally if they met certain conditions, such as having been in the U.S. since 2010, having relatives who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and having not committed any serious crimes. The Obama administration approved the changes by executive order and was ready to begin implementing them in 2014 when a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction halting the process.

The vote means the case will return to federal court for a possible trial that could take years to resolve.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who has been working on connecting recent immigrants to work, said the decision stalls some efforts that would allow immigrants to legally work.

The city is looking into creating an Office of New Americans, which in part would help immigrants integrate into society and find work.

“It’s not good for our economy and not good for our society when they have to live in secret,” Strimling said. “It’s leaving people behind.”

Portland has the largest concentration of immigrants in Maine, with 10,000 foreign-born residents living here in 2013, according to Coastal Enterprises Inc., which provides business counseling services.

Susan Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland, which provides affordable legal services for recent immigrants, said while the Supreme Court decision was discouraging, the court did not rule on the merits of the executive orders.

“We believe in the end, the program will go forward,” Roche said.

But she said it could take years to resolve and meanwhile, people are not receiving their work authorizations.

Obama criticized the Supreme Court decision on Thursday.

“Today’s decision is frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system, and to allow people to come out of the shadows and lift this perpetual cloud on them,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who’ve made their lives here, who’ve raised families here, who hoped for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military, and more fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way.”