In November 2014 President Obama issued an executive order deferring or preventing deportation for roughly 4 million people. According to Reuters, “those who have lived illegally in the United States at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are US citizens or lawful permanent residents” will be allowed to get into a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits.
The American Immigration Council reported, “Since at least 1956, every US president has granted temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance.” Adding, “Some presidents announced programs while legislation was pending. Other presidents responded to humanitarian crises. Still others made compelling choices to assist individuals in need when the law failed to address their needs or changes in circumstance.” Obama’s action falls within the latter category.
Many Republicans viewed this action by Obama as an executive power-grab – though had no problem with executive action by Presidents Bush & Reagan regarding immigration – and sued the Obama Administration.
After working its way through the courts, the matter was heard by the US Supreme Court on April 18. Reuters reports, “Based on questions asked during the 90-minute oral argument in a case that tests the limits of presidential powers, the court’s four liberal justices seemed poised to back Obama while the four conservatives were more skeptical.” Adding, “A 4-4 split would leave in place a 2015 lower-court ruling that threw out the president’s executive action.” A split decision is possible only because of the vacancy left after the death of Antonin Scalia in February.
However, one or more of the conservative justices may be swayed to overturn the lower-court ruling on procedural grounds. And procedural grounds are at the root of the GOP-led lawsuit. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, who argued on behalf of the twenty-six states who sued Obama, reportedly conceded that the federal government has the power to defer action on deportations. The Obama Administration for it’s part is arguing that Texas and the other states lack standing, meaning they believe the states lack legitimate grounds to sue.
Though Keller insisted, according to SCOTUSblog, Obama’s action installed “a brand new legal status, ‘legal presence.’… a privilege that, he said, only Congress can confer.” This new classification may not be enough to get the Justices to back the lawsuit brought by the states given what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called a “basic problem” – the federal government lacking the resources to deport all of the estimated 11 million people in the country in violation of federal laws.
Whether the Supreme Court rules in favor of the states or the federal government, one thing is clear: the issue of immigration, and which immigrants are allowed to stay in the country, will not be decided as long as the Republicans and Democrats want to restrict human freedom.