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The Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Obama’s Immigration Plans Live or Die

The Court agrees to rule on the legal status of 4.3 million immigrants, taking on a hot issue in the presidential race.

The Su­preme Court has agreed to rule on Pres­id­ent Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions on im­mig­ra­tion, a de­cision that will de­term­ine wheth­er those pro­grams ever see the light of day—and that could upend the pres­id­en­tial race.

The Court said Tues­day that it will hear a law­suit chal­len­ging the pro­gram known as DAPA (De­ferred Ac­tion for Par­ents of Amer­ic­ans), which would al­low roughly 4.3 mil­li­on un­doc­u­men­ted im­mig­rants to re­main in the U.S. leg­ally.

By ac­cept­ing the im­mig­ra­tion case, the Court has thrust it­self in­to the cen­ter of a polit­ic­al storm. It’s tak­ing on the most heated policy de­bate of the 2016 cam­paign and will likely rule in late June, just weeks be­fore the parties’ con­ven­tions.

The Court’s ul­ti­mate rul­ing will de­term­ine not only Obama’s leg­acy on im­mig­ra­tion, but also the shape of the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate. Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions give Re­pub­lic­ans something con­crete to cri­ti­cize and Demo­crats something con­crete to sup­port—what hap­pens if they’re struck down?

Will the Court val­id­ate Re­pub­lic­ans’ claims that Obama’s ac­tions were an ex­cess­ive power grab, or will it make leg­al status a real pro­tec­tion that a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ent would have to ac­tu­ally take away?

Hil­lary Clin­ton, mean­while, has said she would ex­pand on Obama’s uni­lat­er­al im­mig­ra­tion re­forms. But what hap­pens to that pledge if Obama’s policies aren’t there to build on? And if the Court says Obama’s ac­tions were an ex­ec­ut­ive over­reach, how would she de­fend her prom­ises to reach even fur­ther?

It’s a sim­il­ar situ­ation to the one the Court, and the polit­ic­al pro­cess, faced in 2012, when the justices de­cided wheth­er Obama­care would live or die. And the stakes are just as high this time: A fa­vor­able rul­ing from the Court is prob­ably the only way Obama would be able to im­ple­ment his im­mig­ra­tion or­ders be­fore leav­ing of­fice.

The Court’s de­cision to hear the case is a win for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has con­sist­ently tried to speed up the pro­cess while its op­pon­ents have sought delays that could have pushed a fi­nal rul­ing in­to the next ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A group of 26 states, led by Texas, filed the law­suit now be­fore the Su­preme Court. They chal­lenged DAPA al­most as soon it was an­nounced, ar­guing that the policy ex­ceeded Obama’s au­thor­ity and should have been sub­ject to no­tice-and-com­ment rule­mak­ing. The states say de­ferred de­port­a­tions have in­jured them, in part, be­cause they will have to spend money to provide health care, edu­ca­tion, and driver’s li­censes to the un­doc­u­mented work­ers DAPA would pro­tect.

Tech­nic­ally, lower courts have not yet ruled on wheth­er DAPA is con­sti­tu­tion­al; they have blocked the pro­gram from tak­ing ef­fect while the de­bate over its mer­its plays out. The 5th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals up­held that in­junc­tion in Novem­ber, and that’s what the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pealed to the Su­preme Court. The states, however, had asked the high court to go ahead and rule on the mer­its if it took the case.

(Image via Steve Heap/

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