​Is Obama's​ immigration plan legal? Supreme Court takes up case

The Court may override lower courts' decisions against the executive actions, which would enable up to 5 million parents of US citizens, currently living illegally in the United States, to find legal jobs. 

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
A woman chants as immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the US Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington, Nov. 20. The high court on Tuesday agreed to hear Mr. Obama's bid to resurrect his plan to shield more than 4 million illegal immigrants from deportation, a unilateral executive action he took in 2014 to bypass the Republican-led Congress.

The US Supreme Court has agreed to review President Obama’s executive order to permit many illegal immigrants to work legally, a motion challenged by 26 states that could potentially free up to 5 million parents of US citizens to "come out of the shadows."

The high court expects to hear the case in April and decide by June, shortly before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for the 2016 presidential race. Immigration has been a fiercely debated topic throughout the campaign, from Donald Trump's early calls to deport all illegal immigrants to Democratic candidates' recent alarm over the administration’s raids in early January, which arrested more than 120 people who had exhausted their legal appeals to stay in the country. 

But 26 states, mostly with Republican leadership, have challenged Mr. Obama's executive actions, called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which would have allowed many people who either entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas to find legal jobs. Most of those impacted would be parents of US citizens or of lawful permanent residents, and must have lived in the United States for at least five years. 

DAPA would allow citizens' parents to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law," Obama said in late 2014. 

The plan has been blocked by lower courts' decisions in favor of the states, rulings which prevented the administration from issuing work permits or limited federal benefits.

Texas, which has led the states' battle, has won every federal court case so far. The state argues that it can sue the administration because it would have to pay for new drivers' licenses for half a million people in Texas who would suddenly gain the right to a work permit, which would cost the state millions.

A November ruling in the state's favor, from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, prompted the White House to appeal to the Supreme Court. The administration argues that states cannot sue over DAPA.

Ruling in states' favor would leave immigrants "without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. argued in his November filing.

Nearly 11 million people who live in the US are believed to have entered or remained in the country illegally. The past two years have seen a dramatic surge in families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border, mostly fleeing gang- and drug-related violence in Central America.

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley have feared that many of these families, whom they say should be treated as refugees, would be deported in the recent raids. The raids sow "division and fear" in American communities, Mrs. Clinton said earlier this month. 

The White House says its current deportation priorities are recent immigrants and criminals.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, 235,000 people were deported in the last fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2015 — the smallest number since 2006. 

Obama has said that his executive actions were prompted by Congress' prolonged handwringing over immigration reform. The administration has also instituted a shield program for children living in the US whose parents brought them illegally, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which permits them to live and work legally. The shield currently applies to more than 720,000 people.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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