Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Important Immigration Case

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Federal immigration measures have a local impact.

(davidevison/Getty Images)
NLC has joined an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to consider that, because undocumented immigrants are integral members of our communities, the enjoined deferred action programs protect vital local interests and that, without them, millions of families face the threat of deportation, destabilizing our communities and jeopardizing the welfare of families and children. (Getty Images)

It was a different crowd today at the Supreme Court. The number of children on the courthouse steps may have exceeded the number of adults, and the voices on the microphones were speaking English and Spanish.

United States v. Texas is about different things for different people. For some it is about keeping families together, for others executive overreach, and for about half of the states it is about “standing” to sue the federal government.

For the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, per the amicus brief they joined, which was filed by over 100 mayors and local government officials, it is about “undocumented immigrants [being] integral members of our communities.”

The legal issue in this case is whether the President’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who have U.S. citizen children to stay and work temporarily in the United States, violates federal law.

Before getting to this question, the Court has to decide whether any of the 26 states challenging DAPA have “standing” to sue the federal government in the first place. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the cost of issuing drivers licenses to DAPA program participants is a particular harm states will face, which provides the basis for standing.

The more conservative Justices, led by Justice Roberts, seemed skeptical of the United States’ argument that states lack standing. Arguing on behalf of the United States, the Chief Justice asked Solicitor General Don Verrilli whether the federal government’s position that, if a state doesn’t want to incur the cost of providing DAPA participants a license, it could just change its law and stop doing so is a “Catch-22.” If a state did so, the federal government would very likely sue the state for discrimination.

Justice Kagan led the Court’s more liberal Justices, who were questioning whether the DAPA program exceeds federal immigration law. Both sides agreed, she pointed out, that the federal government could decide not to deport a class of low priority undocumented immigrants, which is part of what DAPA does. So the problem isn’t with DAPA but with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 186, which allows some people not lawfully present in the United States to work and receive other benefits. But Texas and the other states in this case sue under DAPA, not the federal immigration law.

Oral argument, and conventional wisdom, indicate that the Court may be split 4-4 on both issues in this case. We probably won’t know for sure before the end of June.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.