The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to reinstate President Obama’s deportation amnesty, filing papers Friday appealing a federal appeals court’s decision blocking the amnesty exactly a year after the program was first announced.
Administration officials hope to get the case on the high court’s calendar for this term, which ends in June. Otherwise the case would have to wait to be heard until October 2016, at the earliest, which would mean a decision likely wouldn’t come until after Mr. Obama leaves office and a new president has a chance to undo his moves.
Mr. Obama is desperate to try to lock in his policy so his successor will have a tougher time undoing it.
Immigrant rights advocates cheered the appeal, but said they still want to see more out of Mr. Obama.
“Appealing to defend the expansion of deferred action is the least the administration can do on immigration,” said Marisa Franco, director of the #Not1More Campaign that wants to halt deportations. “The Department of Justice should be investigating the civil rights crisis at DHS that’s unfolding with no one watching. ICE’s abuses constitute a fire that only the DOJ can put out.”
Mr. Obama could have dropped the case and accepted the decision last week from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled he violated the law. And his decision to appeal didn’t sit well with Republicans, who said he had more important priorities to attend to.
“Instead of trying to defend an unconstitutional executive order as he winds down his time in office, the president should work with Congress to secure our borders and improve our immigration laws,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
The amnesty, known officially as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA, was the marquee part of a series of executive actions Mr. Obama announced Nov. 20, 2014, to try to rewrite immigration policy on his own. He said he was forced to act after Congress refused to deliver him the bill he wanted.
Under DAPA more than 4 million illegal immigrants were to have been granted a three-year stay of deportation and a work permit, which entitled them to Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and potentially other benefits — a quasi-legal status.
Last week a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled, in a 2-1 decision, that Mr. Obama was breaking immigration law by trying to grant such a broad waiver and benefits to so many illegal immigrants.
Courts have said the president has the power to decide whom to target for deportation, but Mr. Obama overstepped his bounds when he went on to create a new program to grant a proactive and forward-looking amnesty.
In its filing Friday the Obama Justice Department characterized the three-year amnesty as a way to more quickly release illegal immigrants it doesn’t want to deport.
“The guidance would complement those priorities by having millions of low-priority aliens pay for and pass a background check,” the department said in its appeal. “If law enforcement officers later encountered such an individual, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] could ‘quickly confirm the alien’s identity through a biometric match’ and confirm that he or she does not warrant the effort of removal.”
Mr. Obama insists he’s only expanding on the types of policies previous presidents have overseen — though his administration admits the size of his program is unprecedented.
Immigrant rights groups argue that DAPA would be a major economic boon to the U.S., bringing illegal workers into the legal workforce. But courts have said that’s not part of their calculation.
Texas led 25 other states in suing to stop the amnesty, arguing that it forced them to issue driver’s licenses, which they subsidize to the tune of more than $100 a pop. The courts agreed that was a harm and gave Texas standing to sue.
John Yoo, a former Bush administration official and now law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said Mr. Obama’s actions aren’t just illegal, they’re unconstitutional.
“If the Supreme Court takes the case, I expect it will rebuff President Obama’s misreading of his powers under federal law and his refusal to execute the laws faithfully — his core constitutional responsibility,” Mr. Yoo said. “While immigration is an important and controversial issue, its resolution must come in Congress, where the Constitution places it.”