The Supreme Court met today for an extended debate on United States v. Texas, a decision that has the power to impact the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants and their families.
The case concerns a program announced by the Obama Administration in November 2014. Called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), the program would allow up to 4 million unauthorized immigrants, all of whom are either the parents of American citizens or relatives of lawful permanent residents, to apply for a program that would shield them from deportation for three years and issue them work permits. United States v. Texas, a suit brought by 26 Republican-controlled states, challenges the program by characterizing it as an unlawful act of side-stepping and abuse of power. Texas in particular is alleging that they’re bringing the suit because, if the reforms go into effect, they would have to issue undocumented immigrants drivers’ licenses, which would cost the state enough money to constitute “harm”. Beyond the immediate impact on undocumented lives, the ruling may set a significant precedent regarding presidential power and immigration policy.
So far, the Justices have been deeply divided along ideological lines. In the absence of Justice Scalia, the 8-member Supreme Court looks to be headed toward a 4-4 deadlock. Conservative Justices like Roberts and Alito seem to be focusing on questioning the language of the program, which they feel would contradict immigration policy by making those covered under the program both “lawfully present” and in violation of US law. Liberal Justices like Sotomayor and Bader Ginsberg are directing the discussion to the reality of the situation, and the fact of the continued existence of undocumented immigrants whether or not the challenge posed by Texas and the coalition of conservative-run states is allowed to stand. The Republican-controlled Senate is nowhere near even considering confirming a potentially tie-breaking ninth Justice, so the case could very possibly continue on as a stalemate.
Meanwhile, outside the Courthouse, undocumented immigrants and their supporters have gathered in a very real show of what is at stake here. Representing the human cost that is so easily abstracted in legal argument, they await a decision by the court about the legitimacy of the challenge posed by United States v. Texas and the future of DAPA.