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6:44 p.m. | 73° 10/22/2017

Obama takes immigration leniency plan to the Supreme Court


The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn lower courts and declare that the president has the authority to allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain and work in the U

By Robert Barnes | 11/22/2015, 6 a.m.
Obama takes immigration leniency plan to the Supreme Court
Concentración pro inmigrante ante la Corte Suprema el 20 de noviembre de 2015. | Alfredo Duarte Pereira para ETL

The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn lower courts and declare that the president has the authority to allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain and work in the United States without fear of deportation.

The administration petitioned the justices to step in only 10 days after a federal appeals court ruled against President Obama’s program. Unless the Supreme Court agrees to consider the issue and overrules the lower court, Obama has little chance of carrying out the program before he leaves office in January 2017.

The case raises major issues involving the separation of powers and federalism. The issue has flummoxed Congress and emerged as one of the major flash points of disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans running for president.

Obama announced the program in an executive order exactly a year ago Friday after House Republicans blocked an effort to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.

Texas and 25 other states sued, saying that Obama had exceeded his authority with a plan that would allow between 4 million to 5 million illegal immigrants to remain in this country.

The administration contends that the states have no legal standing to sue because it is up to the federal government to set immigration policy and that the Department of Homeland Security did not violate federal statutes in devising the program.

As a practical matter, the government says 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 illegal immigrants.

Obama’s program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), would allow illegal 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 administration says the program is simply a form of prioritizing which illegal immigrants the government will move first to deport.

In his petition, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said the appeals court had blocked “a federal immigration enforcement policy of great national importance, and has done so 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 said that lower court ruling “will force millions of people — who are not removal priorities under criteria the court conceded are valid, and who are parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents — to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families. And it will place a cloud over the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who came to the United States as children, have lived here for years, and been accorded deferred action.”

But the states have said Obama’s program is an illegal power grab by the president, initiating on his own a program that Congress would not authorize.