Supreme Court to hear case against Obama’s immigration agenda

Many wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the president’s executive actions on DACA and DAPA.

In April 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit by 26 states challenging President Obama's executive action on immigration. In November 2014, the president expressed regret that Congress had not enacted meaningful immigration reform and laid out steps he was taking based on his authority as the nation's chief executive, including expanding DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

In an earlier article, we described the DACA program in detail and discussed the lawsuit against President Obama's attempt to expand the pool of eligible undocumented immigrants and extend the relief period from two years to three. The president also ordered the establishment of a similar program for undocumented parents of citizens and of legal residents called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability or DAPA.

In February 2015, the judge in the federal lawsuit enjoined (ordered that the administration stop) the president's immigration orders for expanded DACA and new DAPA until after trial. The injunction was upheld on appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in January 2016 to hear the case on its merits.

Shortly thereafter, the sudden death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016, raised questions about the outcome of the case and final status of the president's immigration initiatives. The Republican majority in the U.S. Senate has stated that it will not consider President Obama's nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit, leaving the court one member short for at least this term.

Without a full court of nine justices, a tied decision is possible in the immigration case, which would leave standing the appeals court order that affirmed the trial court's injunction stopping the executive action pending trial. Whether the case is sent back for trial or the injunction stays in place, it is possible that if the matter stretched out past the election, the new president could take different action on the matter.

On the other hand, a decision that is not tied could be reached. The justices will consider these legal issues:

  • Whether the states had legal authority to file the suit
  • Whether the president complied with the U.S. Constitution's requirement that he take care to faithfully execute the laws
  • Whether the president's actions were in essence regulations that require a public notice-and-comment period to take effect
  • Whether the president acted within his legal authority

The outcome of this case and the future of DACA and DAPA could impact the lives of millions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. by deferring deportation action and granting work permits. Living without fear of removal and working legally would keep together families, many of which contain young children.

The Center for Migration Studies in 2016 published the results of an analysis of the characteristics of undocumented people who are potential beneficiaries of DACA, DAPA and expanded DACA, which it calls "DACA-plus." It found that most in this population of undocumented residents "enjoy strong family ties, long tenure, and high employment rates in the United States." Many speak English well or exclusively.

In the meantime, the original DACA program is still accepting initial and renewal applications. Anyone who may be eligible for DACA relief should speak with an attorney for advice and help.

The attorneys at the U.S. Law Center with three offices in Southern California represent clients across the country in DACA and a wide array of other immigration matters impacting individuals, families and businesses.