WASHINGTON – Dozens of immigrants and advocates are rallying outside of the Supreme Court on Monday as the justices take up oral arguments in a major immigration case that could affect millions on people in the United States who are undocumented.
The Obama administration is asking the high court to allow it to put in place two programs that could shield roughly 4 million people from deportation and make them eligible to work in the United States.
Texas is leading 26 states in challenging the executive actions announced in 2014, which have been put on hold by lower courts. They say the programs need to be blocked because President Obama overstepped his authority under the existing immigration laws and the Constitution.
The high court is expected to decide by late June whether the efforts can move forward.
The court also could decide that Texas and the other states don't have the right to sue in federal court, a procedural outcome that would largely sidestep the divisive immigration issue.
Another possibility is a 4-4 tie following Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February. That would leave the programs in limbo, almost certainly through the end of Obama's presidency.
"Thousands of immigrant families are suffering from the backlash of legal battles led by extremists, forcing them to live in limbo and constant fear of deportation," said Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition, who left on a bus Sunday for the nation’s capital.
Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) are expected to address the rally to "send a strong message in defense of the President immigration action," a statement read.
The programs would apply to parents whose children are citizens or are living in the country legally. Eligibility also would be expanded for the president's 2012 effort that applies to people who were brought here illegally as children. More than 700,000 people have taken advantage of that earlier program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The new program for parents, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, and the expanded program for children could reach as many as 4 million people, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
The states, joined by congressional Republicans, argue that Obama doesn't have the power to effectively change immigration law. When he announced the measures 17 months ago, Obama said he was acting under his own authority because Congress had failed to overhaul the immigration system. The Senate had passed legislation on a bipartisan vote, but House Republicans refused to put the matter to a vote.
House Republicans told the court that Obama is claiming the power "to decree that millions of individuals may live, work and receive benefits in this country, even though federal statutes plainly prohibit them from doing so."
The administration and immigration advocates say the immigration orders are neither unprecedented nor even unusual. Rather, they say, Obama's programs build on past efforts by Democratic and Republican administrations to use discretion in deciding whom to deport.
The administration and its supporters said the challenged programs do not offer blanket protection, but depend on case-by-case reviews. The protection from deportation also would be temporary, for three years.
Another 16 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia said they would reap billions of dollars in additional taxes and would see other benefits, including increasing trust between immigrant communities and police, if the programs are allowed to take effect.
Both sides acknowledge that the outcome of the presidential election could determine the programs' fates, even if the Supreme Court rules for the administration. Republican candidates have pledged to roll back Obama's actions, and Republican candidate Donald Trump has proposed deporting the roughly 11 million people who are living in the U.S. illegally.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.