- Views & Opinions
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review President Barack Obama’s December 2014 executive order granting up to 5 million undocumented residents the right to work legally in the United States, including 34,000 in Wisconsin.
The justices said they’ll consider the constitutionality of Obama’s plan, which lower courts blocked from taking effect after 26 Republican governors, including Scott Walker, filed suit against it. The court’s announcement comes amid a presidential campaign in which anti-immigrant fervor has galvanized the Republican Party.
AP reported the case will be argued in April and decided by late June, a month before the major political parties hold their nominating conventions.
Immigration reform groups were buoyed by the high court’s announcement, despite its 5–4 conservative majority. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Milwaukee-based immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, said she’s expecting a favorable decision because the president’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program stands on strong constitutional ground.
“What (Obama’s) doing is not changing the law, but making a choice about priorities in terms of how we should use our immigration resources,” explained Neumann-Ortiz. “(The president’s) providing protection from deportation for five millions people. It’s not a permanent solution. That can only come from Congress. But it gives people three-year renewable visas, valid social security numbers and access to drivers’ licenses.”
Democratic officials also praised the court’s action. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that “law-abiding men and women continue to live in constant fear of being separated from their children. These families must be allowed to step out of the shadows and fully contribute to the country that they love and call home.”
At the center of the litigation is Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program. It would allow people who have been in the United States more than five years and who have children who are in the country legally to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”
Obama’s Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. contends that blocking Obama’s plans forces millions of people “to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families.”
So far, the federal courts have blocked the administration from issuing work permits and allowing immigrants to receive some federal benefits. But Neumann-Ortiz said the legal jurisdictions that have been involved so far are untra-conservative and biased.
The case originated in the Western District of Texas and lost its second appeal at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
If the Supreme Court does side with the administration, that would leave only about seven months in Obama’s presidency to implement his plans. “We are confident that the policies will be upheld as lawful,” White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine told AP after the court’s action today.
Initially, the Obama administration said Texas and the other states that filed to block the immigration action didn’t have the right to challenge the plan in federal court. The lower courts decided, however, that Texas does have the standing to sue because at least 500,000 people living in the state would qualify for work permits and become eligible for driver licenses, the cost of which are subsidized by the state. “Texas would incur millions of dollars in costs,” the state said in its brief to the Supreme Court.
Texas asked the Supreme Court not to hear the case, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was pleased the justices will examine the president’s constitutional power to intercede without congressional approval.
The future of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally has been much discussed by Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has pledged to go further than Obama to protect large groups of immigrants from deportation.
Republican candidate Donald Trump has proposed deporting all people who are living in the U.S. illegally, an idea embraced by some GOP candidates and dismissed by others.
Obama said he was spurred to act on his own by Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. An earlier program that is not being challenged, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, shields immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Under that program, more than 720,000 young immigrants have been granted permission to live and work legally in the United States.
The White House also has shifted its enforcement actions to focus on criminals, those who pose a threat to national security or public safety, and recent border-crossers.
The change means that people who are here illegally but who are not otherwise violating the law are less likely to face deportation.
About 235,000 people were deported in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
That was the smallest number since 2006 and a 42 percent drop since a record high of more than 409,000 in 2012.
Still, the administration drew criticism from Democrats and immigration advocates for raids this month that resulted in the arrest of more than 120 immigrants from Central America who came to the country illegally since 2014. Those recent arrivals are not among immigrants who would benefit from Obama’s plan.