The good news for President Obama out of Monday’s Supreme Court immigration ruling is that the justices all seemed to agree that he has broad discretion over whom he chooses to deport.
The bad news for him is that he is about to face extreme pressure to grant a blanket exemption to most illegal immigrants, particularly those who now will be found by local police in Arizona.
While the justices ruled 5-3 to strike down most of Arizona’s law, all eight gave police tentative approval to check the immigration status of those they have reasonable suspicion are in the country illegally, and to report those immigrants to federal authorities.
But their ruling also made clear that they believe the president has broad authority to decide who gets deported.
“The pressure’s on him,” said Alfonso Aguilar, a conservative pushing for legalization.
He said Mr. Obama has been slow to act. “If he really has that discretion, he could stop those deportations. So why doesn’t he do this?”
The administration is already taking small steps in that direction.
Just hours after Monday’s ruling, the administration canceled existing agreements with seven sheriff’s or police departments in Arizona that had been allowed to enforce immigration law.
Officials also said they likely would end up declining most of the calls they get alerting them to illegal immigrants who have been stopped by state or local police.
“We will not be issuing detainers on individuals unless they clearly meet our defined priorities,” an administration official told reporters in a briefing conducted on the condition that none of the participants be named.
Later, the administration released a memo from top U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to ICE staff in Arizona repeating the guidance.
Monday’s memo about limiting deportations was aimed specifically at Arizona, which raises questions about what will happen in other states, such as South Carolina and Alabama, that have passed similar laws granting local police power to check immigration status.
Mr. Obama over the past two years has taken steps to limit the exposure of most illegal immigrants to deportation, saying he wanted to focus enforcement on immigrants with felony records or those who have repeatedly violated immigration laws.
Last year, ICE Director John Morton issued guidance telling agents to focus on those priorities. Two weeks ago, Mr. Obama made an even bolder move, announcing that he would categorically halt deportations for illegal immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to the U.S. as children and have graduated from high school or earned an equivalent degree.
Some congressional Republicans challenged the move as an abuse of Mr. Obama’s authority, but in three of four opinions on the Arizona case yesterday, justices seemed inclined to give the president wide latitude.