U.S. v. Texas: Supreme Court Case Could Affect Millions of Immigrants

In April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Texas, a case examining President Barack Obama’s programs deferring the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.


In November 2014 Obama announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program and the expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, potentially affecting an estimated 4.7 million immigrants in the United States unlawfully. Both programs have been on hold since a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction preventing their implementation in February 2015 (an injunction is a judicial order restraining a party from beginning or continuing an action that could potentially threaten the legal right of another).


Under DACA, immigrants under 31 as of June 2012 without a lawful status that meet other several other guidelines can request deferred action which would allow them to receive a renewable two year work permit and exemption from deportation. Around 800,000 young immigrants have benefited from this program. President Obama’s 2014 action would eliminate the upper age cap for DACA and grant three year work permits and exemptions from deportation rather than two years.


DAPA would allow immigrants who have lived in the country illegally since 2010, have children who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents, and have generally stayed out of trouble (no felonies or significant misdemeanors) to apply for deferred action as well, which would give them three year work permits and exemption from deportation for that time.


The Issues


The Supreme Court looked at several issues in the case, but much of the case focused on whether Texas had standing–the right to challenge the action in court because of a specific current or future harm to the challenging party.


Texas argued that the state had standing to challenge the action due to the budget impact it would suffer if it had to give drivers’ licenses to possibly millions of undocumented immigrants newly granted the right to stay in the United States (Texas charges $24 for a license but says it costs almost $200 to process each application).


The government argued in response that the states do not have standing to sue the government over a federal deferred-action policy because Texas cannot show that it will be directly harmed by the policy, as the policy does not regulate states or require states to do anything.


This Court’s decision on this seemingly small procedural issue will have a big impact on future immigration policy. The case is complicated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, which left the Supreme Court with only eight members. If the Court ties 4-4 on a ruling, the ruling from the lower court stands. In this case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling would be affirmed, putting DAPA and the expanded DACA on hold potentially indefinitely.


The Court will issue its decision by the end of June. Whatever the Court decides, the decision will almost certainly provoke debate from both immigration reform advocates and opponents in the lead-up to the presidential election in November.