The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court for a speedy decision on its plans to shield from deportation millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
Legal papers filed on Friday call for the court's immediate review of President Barack Obama's plan to protect and give work permits to as many as 5 million immigrants. The immigrants affected are mainly the parents of American citizens and lawful permanent residents.
The appeal, filed a year after Obama announced his executive actions on immigration, injects the Supreme Court into a dispute between 26 mainly Republican-led states and the Democratic administration, amid a presidential race in which immigration has been a flashpoint.
If the court agrees to hear and decide the case by late June, and if the justices side with the administration, that would leave roughly seven months in Obama's presidency to implement his plans.
But time is running short for consideration of the immigration issue in the court's current term. Texas, the lead state in the lawsuit, has 30 days to respond, but could ask for more time. If the justices don't agree by mid-January to hear the case, the issue probably will not be decided until after Obama leaves office in January 2017.
At issue is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, which Obama said would allow people who have been in the United States more than five years and who have children who are in the country legally to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
Texas quickly led a legal challenge to the program, and has won every round in court so far, effectively blocking Obama's plans.
Most recently, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the states.
The administration makes three main arguments in its Supreme Court 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.
The future of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally has been much discussed by Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has pledged to go further than Obama to protect large groups of immigrants from deportation.
Republican candidate Donald Trump has proposed deporting all people who are living here illegally, an idea embraced by some GOP candidates and dismissed by others.
Obama said he was spurred to act on his own by the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. An earlier program that is not being challenged, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, shields immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. More than 720,000 young immigrants have been granted permission to live and work legally in the United States.
At the same time, the White House has shifted its enforcement actions to focus on criminals, those who pose a threat to national security or public safety, and recent border-crossers.
The change means that people who are here illegally but who are not otherwise violating the law are less likely to face deportation.
About 231,000 people were deported in the government spending year that ended Sept. 30, according to internal government documents obtained by The Associated Press.
That was the smallest number since 2006 and a 42 percent drop since a record high of more than 409,000 in 2012.