The Supreme Court has agreed to review President Obama's executive immigration actions from 2014 that would shield up to 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
The plan has been tied up in court since 26 states, mainly led by Republicans, challenged the legality of the plan. In February 2015, a federal judge temporarily blocked the executive actions from taking place and said the states had standing to sue. He did not rule on the constitutionality of the plan.
In November, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction blocking the administration's immigration initiative, prompting the administration to file an appeal calling for the Supreme Court to immediately review the plans.
The case will be argued in April and decided by late June, in the midst of a heated 2016 election where immigration remains a key issue. The decision will come about a month before the gather for their nominating conventions.
The administration makes three main arguments in its appeal: the states have no right to challenge the policy in federal court; the government followed appropriate procedure; and the administration has broad discretion in the area of immigration.
Without the Supreme Court's intervention, millions of people will be forced "to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said in the court filing.
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The executive actions the president unveiled in 2014 would grant a reprieve from deportation to about 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally and allow them to apply for a three-year work permit if they can pass a background check, register with the government, submit biometric data, and establish they are eligible for relief.
Mr. Obama did not signing any executive orders to carry out his plans, but rather issued several presidential memoranda that establish new procedures and guidelines for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Labor.
Those who could receive a reprieve if the plan is upheld include the parents of children who were either born in the U.S. or are Lawful Permanent Residents, and children who were brought into the country illegally prior to January 1, 2010, and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. The latter category represents an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which previously required applicants to have arrived before June 15, 2007 and had an age limit.
Texas is leading 26 mainly Republican-dominated states in challenging the Democratic administration's immigration plan.
So far, the federal courts have sided with the states to keep the administration from issuing work permits and allowing the immigrants to begin receiving some federal benefits.
The administration said Texas and the other states don't even have the right to challenge the plan in federal court. The lower courts decided that Texas does have the right, or standing, to sue because at least 500,000 people living in Texas would qualify for work permits and thus 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.
The justices also said they would consider whether Obama exceeded his authority under federal laws and the Constitution.
Texas asked the 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. "In deciding to hear this case, the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of the separation of powers," Paxton said.
If the justices eventually side with the administration, that would leave roughly seven months in Obama's presidency to implement his plans.
The move was quickly hailed by America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group.
"This is a great day for millions of immigrants and their allies. At long last, millions of immigrants will have a full and fair hearing before the highest court in the land," Frank Sharry, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "We are optimistic that the underlying legal issues will be resolved in our favor, and the relief fought for and won by the immigrants' rights movement will be unfrozen."