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Supreme Court Appears Divided on Arguments Over Obama’s Immigration Orders

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The nation’s top court on Monday, April 18, heard oral arguments for the case United States v. Texas, which challenges President Barack Obama’s executive actions to grant reprieve to millions of undocumented immigrants in the country.

Monday’s arguments centered on whether Obama overstepped his authority by authorizing programs in November 2014 that would defer deportation for about four million undocumented immigrants, and whether states had the standing to challenge the administration’s policy.

The top court appeared divided along partisan lines. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito asked, “How is it possible to lawfully work in the United States without lawfully being in the United States?”

Liberal justices expressed sympathy toward the Obama administration, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor noting that there are insufficient resources to deport the millions of undocumented immigrants in the nation.

Arguments for the case were heard by eight justices and comes after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Scalia was known for his conservative views.

That only eight justices are hearing the arguments could affect the outcome of the case. If the court ends up voting in an evenly split 4-4, the immigration programs would stay blocked and would be sent back to the district court in Texas that first issued the injunction.

Asian immigrants eligible

In the United States, there are at least 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, two-thirds of whom have resided in the country for more than a decade. Of those, about 400,000 undocumented Asian immigrants would be eligible for the programs, called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The latter builds upon a program Obama approved in 2012.

For advocacy organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), both programs are seen as standing on the right side of the law.

“In the last five decades, [presidents] from both sides of the aisle have taken executive action to shape immigration priorities,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Advancing Justice-LA in a statement.

Anthony Ng, immigrant rights policy advocate at Advancing Justice-LA, said in a statement that a ruling against DAPA and expanded DACA doesn’t only affect undocumented immigrants, but their families, neighborhoods and communities. “While the legal battle ensues and anti-immigrant campaigns on the state and national level continue, we must remember that these actions have a real human cost,” Ng said.

Opposition to executive action

Those opposed to Obama’s executive actions say he was trying to go around the Republican Congress.

“Basically the president has stepped in and taken over what normally would be associated with Congress,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to CNN. “Congress makes the laws.”

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued that if implemented, Texas could lose money, partly because DAPA would establish a new class of recipients for state subsidized driver’s licenses in the state. Additionally, Keller pointed out that undocumented immigrants, if declared “lawfully present” in the country, would become eligible for work authorization and certain types of Social Security and Medicare benefits.

In an article published in The Washington Post, however, it is stated that granting an individual “lawful presence” does not legalize the presence of undocumented migrants and does not prevent them from being deported at any time the president may choose to do so.

Stephen Vladeck, law professor at American Univeristy and CNN legal analyst, pointed out to CNN that the ultimate fate of the programs rests in the hands of America’s next president. As with any other executive order, Vladeck said Obama’s actions can be modified, expanded or rescinded by the succeeding president m as well as codified or overruled by the next Congress.

“But the fact that the Supreme Court expedited its consideration of the Obama administration’s appeal so that it could resolve the dispute by June suggests that, even short-handed, the justices want to have their own say first,” he said, according to CNN.

Andrew Pincus, a lawyer who supports the administration’s actions, told CNN that permitting Texas to bring the case would have broad implications.

“If a state can sue every time the federal government does something to increase the state’s costs, states could sue to challenge almost anything the federal government does,” he said.

What the top court will decide remains to be seen. The Post said that one possibility – though unlikely – is that the justices could dismiss the case because states do not have the standing needed to challenge the president’s policy. This issue was heavily discussed in the arguments.

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