A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the delay on President Barack Obama's executive action deferring deportation for more undocumented immigrants
The Justice Department said Tuesday that it would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, likely setting up a battle over the policy at the highest court in the land.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Obama administration overstepped its legal authority with the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, which would let about 4 million undocumented immigrants stay in the country. Announced last November, the program would defer deportation for parents of permanent residents and U.S. citizens.
A group of 26 states sued to end DAPA, and a lower court delayed it with an injunction in February. The Obama administration was asking the Fifth Circuit to end that delay. But instead, the appeals court’s 2-1 ruling went farther—the judges held that the administration lacked the legal authority for its actions, not just that it failed to follow procedural formalities.
Immigration law "does not permit the reclassification of millions of illegal aliens as lawfully present and thereby make them newly eligible for a host of federal and state benefits, including work authorization," Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the majority.
Within hours, the Justice Department announced it would appeal to the Supreme Court.
Immigration groups lambasted the court's decision. “This is a setback, but not the end of the road," said Pili Tobar, Spokesperson for Latino Victory Project. “It is frustrating and maddening that anti-immigrant, conservative politicians continue hurting our families and putting their own political interests ahead of the well-being of our country and the values it was founded upon."
But the plaintiffs applauded it. "The court's decision is a vindication for the Rule of Law and the Constitution," said Texas Governor Abbott, whose state led the lawsuit, in a statement. "The president's job is to enforce the immigration laws, not rewrite them. President Obama should abandon his lawless executive amnesty program and start enforcing the law today."
President Obama launched Deferred Action for Childhood Approvals—DACA—in 2012, allowing 1.2 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as kids the chance to study and work in the open. He hoped to follow that program, which is still in place, with DAPA, which would have also covered those young immigrants' parents. But the courts, so far, have said no.
Cornell Law professor Stephen Yale-Loehrer said in an email that the ruling "flies in the face of several Supreme Court precedents granting the executive branch broad, almost unlimited, power on immigration policy issues."
"That may make it more likely that the Supreme Court will want to hear the government’s appeal," he said.
The ruling is also a blow to Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton and her rivals have repeatedly stated that they're confident that DAPA will be upheld by the courts. But it could inspire more people to go to the polls and elect a president who supports the program.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.