THE Supreme Court announced on Tuesday, Jan. 19, that it will decide whether President Barack Obama has the executive authority to declare that millions of undocumented immigrants can be allowed to live and work in the United States for a period of time, without fear of deportation.
Obama’s actions, unveiled just over a year ago, are aimed at allowing at least 4 million immigrants to apply for expanded programs that could make them eligible for work authorization and other associated benefits, reported CNN.
The high court’s decision provides the last chance that the White House would have to implement the program before Obama leaves office next January.
One of the programs proposed by Obama was the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would allow undocumented immigrants in those categories to remain in the country and apply for work permits if they have been here for at least five years, and have not committed felonies or repeated misdemeanors.
The president’s executive actions would also expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented in 2012, which applies to younger people who were born outside of the US, but raised within its borders.
The administration says the program is a way for a government with limited resources to prioritize which immigrants it will move first to deport, said the Washington Post.
However, Obama’s sweeping plan, taken after Congress failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform, was swiftly blocked by lower courts when Texas, led by US District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, and 25 other Republican-led states sued the administration in United States v. Texas.
The 26 states said that the program “would be one of the largest changes in immigration policy in our nation’s history” and that it raises major issues involving the separation of powers and federalism.
Since the executive order’s blocking, millions of immigrants, including the aging parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents who would have been eligible, are left waiting for reform.
In a 15-page ruling, Judge Hanen said he “remains convinced” that his original findings in February 2015–halting programs meant to ease deportation threats to millions of eligible undocumented immigrants–were correct. “The Obama Administration’s blatant misrepresentations to the court about its implementation of expanded work permits for illegal immigrants under the President’s lawless amnesty plan reflects a pattern of disrespect for the rule of law in America.”
“DAPA is a crucial change in the nation’s immigration law and policy—and that is precisely why it could be created only by Congress, rather than unilaterally imposed by the Executive,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) in a court filing.
On Tuesday, Paxton welcomed the Supreme Court’s review, saying in a statement: “In deciding to hear this case, the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of the separation of powers. As federal courts have already ruled three times, there are limits to the President’s authority, and those limits enacted by Congress were exceeded when the President unilaterally sought to grant ‘lawful presence’ to more than 4 million unauthorized aliens who are in this country unlawfully.”
He added that the Obama administration has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, which sets forth how federal agencies can establish regulations.
The programs represent one of the “largest changes in immigration policy in our nation’s history,” Paxton said, arguing that the state of Texas has the standing to bring the case, partly because it would also bear the burden and cost of issuing additional driver’s licenses.
White House officials also welcomed the announcement, saying they were confident their side would prevail. White House assistant press secretary Brandi Hoffine said that US v. Texas affects “immigrants who want to be held accountable, to work on the books, to pay taxes, and to contribute to our society openly and honestly.”
“The policies will make our communities safer. They will make our economy stronger. And they are consistent with the actions taken by presidents of both parties, the laws passed by Congress, and the decisions of the Supreme Court. We are confident that the policies will be upheld as lawful,” she said.
“Millions of families have waited nearly a year for these programs to take effect,” said the National Immigration Law Center’s Karen Tumlin. “They will now get a full day in court as the nation’s highest court hears this case of tremendous moral and legal importance.”
Comprehensive immigration reform has confounded a politically deadlocked Congress, and has become one of the main disagreements between Democrat and Republican presidential candidates.
The issue of undocumented immigration has taken center stage in the Republican primary battle, said Fox News, with frontrunner candidate Donald Trump calling for a wall to be built along the US and Mexico border, and other candidates calling for tough proposals.
Though the White House has appealed, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the lower courts in November of last year, keeping the programs from being implemented.
The administration contends that the states have “no legal standing to sue,” because it is up to the federal government to set immigration policy. They also defend that the Department of Homeland Security did not violate federal statutes in devising the executive programs.
“Setting priorities about whom to deport is a practical response to the fact that Congress has given the administration only enough money to deport no more than about 400,000 of the nation’s estimated 11 million [undocumented] immigrants,” the government said, according to the Washington Post.
In their petition to the court, US Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said that the lower courts had blocked “a federal immigration enforcement policy of great national importance…in violation of established limits on the judicial power. If left undisturbed, that ruling will allow states to frustrate the federal government’s enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws.”
Verrilli also added that lower-court rulings “will force millions of people —who are not removal priorities under criteria the court conceded are valid, and who are parents of US citizens and permanent residents—to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families.”
In challenging the immigration plan, the Supreme Court justices also added a question about the constitutionality of Obama’s actions. Texas argued that the Court precedent requires that “presidential action that lacks congressional support must be scrutinized with caution.”
Supporters of the immigration order welcomed the justices’ decision to take up the case, saying it is the only way to resolve the status of millions of undocumented immigrants stuck in litigation limbo.
“The president’s program has been delayed for far too long by this political lawsuit and the clearly erroneous decisions of the lower courts,” said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel of the Congressional Accountability Center. “The lives of millions of children and families in America have been disrupted and held in limbo…and they deserve the Court’s careful and prompt attention.”
“We are thrilled that the Court decided to hear Texas v. US, as it preserves the very real possibility that expanded DACA and DAPA will become available to qualified applicants later this year,” said Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which leads the Ready California campaign–a coalition of organizations working together to educate and provide outreach on DACA and DAPA.
“These programs would improve the lives of over five million people nationwide–1.5 million in California alone–by allowing them to continue building their lives and contributing to their communities without living in fear and uncertainty. Today’s decision brings us one step closer to providing protections that keep families together and strengthen our communities, and that is truly good news.”
According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, many immigrant Filipinos in the US would qualify for both the original and expanded DACA and DAPA programs. Out of around 197,000 undocumented Filipinos currently in the US, approximately 45,000 are estimated to be eligible for both DACA and DAPA. In California’s Los Angeles County, around 7,000 are estimated to be eligible for the expanded DAPA program, and 4,000 for the original DACA. In San Francisco, those eligible for both DACA and DAPA are estimated to be less than 1,000; while in New York’s Queens County, around 2,000 undocumented Filipinos would be qualified.
In Los Angeles County, Filipinos make up about 2 percent of undocumented immigrants currently under the original DACA program, according to the MPI. 3 percent of those would be immediately eligible.
Directing Attorney Joyce Noche from the Immigration Unit at the Public Law Center in Orange County said, “Filipinos are one of the largest groups in California that could potentially benefit from these programs, and we encourage families to go ahead and prepare, now that the Supreme Court has granted review. We tell immigrants to start gathering documentation, save money for the application fee, and contact other family members who could potentially benefit from the programs.”
“We also want to encourage folks to keep informed about the legalization process, and to be wary of false immigration services. Know the resources available, including the media and legal service organizations,” she added. “I think there’s a lot of fear in our community, and people who are generally reluctant to come forward.”
The Public Law Center helps low-income individuals and families in Orange County, provides assistance under the existing DACA program, and helps immigrants with legal services and litigation.
The Supreme Court will likely hear the case in April, with a ruling before it adjourns in June. If it approves the programs, they will go into effect before Obama leaves office.