Back in 2014, when President Obama issued executive orders regarding immigration, no one foresaw the legal battle that would ensue. Now that two lower courts have ruled on the challenge to the president’s executive actions, the Supreme Court has made the case a priority. The justices will hear oral arguments in U.S. v. Texas on Monday, April 18th. The court could render a decision as early as June, ruling on several questions concerning the proposed “DAPA” program and the expanded “DACA” program. The decision – certain to be controversial – could be issued just days before this summer’s Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Texas and other states are disputing the authority of the president to allow the issuance of temporary work permits and to offer relief from the possibility of deportation to as many as five million immigrants in the U.S. who are here without documentation. Neither DACA nor DAPA offers a path to citizenship or even legal permanent residence. What the programs do offer to qualifying individuals is temporary authorization to work in the United States and temporary protection from deportation.
WHAT ARE DACA AND DAPA, AND WHO QUALIFIES?
DACA offers deferred action on immigration to qualified immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as minors by their parents. DAPA offers deferred action on immigration to qualifying immigrant parents of children with citizenship or lawful permanent residence. The case the Supreme Court will hear does not impact the existing DACA program but only the president’s efforts to expand it. Qualifying immigrants may still request an initial grant or a renewal of DACA according to the original regulations implemented in 2012.
The White House argues that the executive actions are merely prosecutorial discretion – the government cannot possibly pursue five or eleven million people, so the White House believes that DACA and DAPA will free up enforcement resources so that immigration authorities can focus on dangerous criminals. Opponents of the president’s approach say it amounts to amnesty for lawbreakers and sidesteps the normal legislative process.
Texas represents a coalition of states that oppose the Obama Administration. The president announced the DACA expansion and DAPA programs in executive actions in November 2014, and the dispute has been working its way through the lower courts since that time. The Supreme Court is currently short one justice after the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia in February, so in the case of a 4-4 tie, the lower court ruling – favoring the states and freezing the DACA and DAPA programs – would stand.
HOW WOULD DAPA BENEFIT EVERYONE?
The Center for American Progress says the DAPA program could create more than 20,000 new jobs a year for the next ten years. The Center additionally says DAPA could boost GDP by $164 billion over the next decade and add $88 billion to the personal incomes of working Americans. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 72 percent of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S., despite their lack of legal status, will participate in the work force this year, and 3.7 million of them would qualify for DAPA. Those workers could pay up to $16.7 billion in taxes in the next five years if the Supreme Court gives DAPA a green light to proceed.
Some observers were surprised to see the court ask both sides in the case to address whether the president’s actions violate the “Take Care” clause of the Constitution, which says a president must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Neither of the lower courts, which heard the case, addressed this legal claim. The Supreme Court’s request suggests that the justices want to resolve all of the issues in the case now, rather than to leave open a constitutional loophole that could be the basis for future litigation.
Alternately, the justices could dismiss the case for the lack of legal standing to bring a challenge. In other words, the Supreme Court may decide that the states may have no legal grounds to stand on. Texas and the other plaintiff states have argued that their legal standing is based on the added costs that states might incur to issue drivers’ licenses to beneficiaries of the deferred action programs.
It’s likely that the DAPA program will proceed – possibly as early as this summer. Speaking for the Obama Administration last year, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said, “We fully expect to ultimately prevail in the courts, and we will be prepared to implement DAPA and expanded DACA once we do.” Immigrants who qualify for the DACA or DAPA programs should be prepared to act if the Supreme Court rules in their favor.
WHERE CAN YOU TURN TO LEARN MORE?
Some immigrants in the U.S. may be hesitant to speak with an attorney. Don’t be afraid or intimidated. When you obtain the advice of a licensed and practicing Ohio immigration attorney, anything you say or disclose to that attorney will remain confidential. When immigrants seek legal counsel, they’re sometimes surprised to find that they qualify for immigration benefits and that their legal situation was not as dire as they thought.
If you are an immigrant who qualifies for the DACA or DAPA program, or if you are a U.S.-based employer who hires immigrant workers, right now is the best time to discuss with an immigration attorney how immigration law impacts you. While the final determination regarding the DACA and DAPA programs is being made by the U.S. Supreme Court, this is the best time for immigrants – and the employers who hire them – to seek legal advice.
WHAT ELSE NEEDS TO BE DONE?
An estimated eleven million immigrants still live “in the shadows,” and honestly, even if the president’s executive actions are approved by the Supreme Court – and the DACA and DAPA programs proceed – much more needs to be done in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. Only Congress has the legal ability to do what ultimately needs to be done to fix immigration.
Until comprehensive immigration reform takes place, immigrants and the employers who hire them will continue to need legal help. A good Ohio immigration attorney, for example, can help employers, investors, and business professionals obtain the visas they need and can also provide legal advice and services to anyone seeking a visa or dealing with immigration issues. The Supreme Court’s ruling this summer in U.S. v. Texas will be vitally important to millions, but whatever the justices decide, plenty of concerns with the immigration system will remain.