Court rejects Obama immigration plan. Executive abuse of power?

Obama's immigration initiative could protect some 5 million people from deportation. But a court ruled against the plan, with critics saying Obama overstepped his executive authority.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
In Nov. 2014, President Obama speaks about immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas. Obama's plan to protect from deportation an estimated 5 million people living in the United States illegally suffered another setback Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in a ruling from a New Orleans-based federal appeals court. In a 2-1 ruling, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas-based federal judge's injunction blocking the administration's immigration initiative.

President Obama wants to protect from deportation an estimated 5 million people living in the United States illegally but a federal appeals court said no.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Mr. Obama Monday in a 2-1 decision that upheld a Texas-based federal judge’s injunction blocking the immigration plan.

Obama's plan would defer deportation for some 5 million illegal immigrants, including children brought to the US illegally, parents of American children, and those with long-standing ties to the country.

Obama’s initiative has faced sharp criticism since it was announced in November 2014. Republican leaders have accused the president of overstepping his authority by taking executive action. Instead, they say, the president should be working with Congress and enforcing the immigration laws already in place.

"President Obama should abandon his lawless executive amnesty program and start enforcing the law today," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a news release. Gov. Abbott has been at the forefront of the opposition to Obama’s immigration plan, even leading a charge in suing the president to block the initiative.

At the heart of the issue is an overwhelming number of illegal immigrants. With an estimated 11 million people in the United States illegally, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have enough resources to deport them all. 

As Judge Carolyn Dineen King wrote in a 53-page dissent to Monday’s decision, "Although there are approximately 11.3 million removable aliens in this country today, for the last several years Congress has provided the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with only enough resources to remove approximately 400,000 of those aliens per year.”

As such, she said, Obama’s action to defer deportations is "quintessential exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

The basic concept of “prosecutorial discretion” is that there aren’t enough officers to enforce every law against every law breaker, so officials must set priorities. As such, Obama is “merely moving them to the back of a very long line of potential deportees,” not granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey wrote in November 2014.

"We strongly disagree with the 5th Circuit's decision," a White House official, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about a legal matter still underway, told the Associated Press. "The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws."

Now, the Obama administration can request a re-hearing. But an advocacy group, National Immigration Law Center, is pushing for a Supreme Court appeal. Any chance at implementing Obama’s plan before he leaves office in 2017 could be slipping away.

Twenty-six states have challenged Obama’s immigration initiative in court. The coalition asserted in December 2014 that Obama overstepped his presidential authority. At the time, Mr. Abbott said the president’s job is to “execute the law, not de facto make law.”

“The president’s independent executive action tramples the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said in a news release then. “The president is ignoring his responsibility to enforce laws passed by Congress and attempting to rewrite immigration laws, which he has no authority to do.”

This isn’t the first time Obama has been accused of abusing executive power. While many of the high-profile accusations have centered around the Affordable Care Act, others include Obama’s recess appointments in 2012 and his denouncement of the Defense of Marriage Act.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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