The United States Supreme Court heard arguments for and against President Obama’s immigration programs on April 18, while the bench was seemingly divided over the matter.
Conservative justices seemed strongly skeptical about Obama’s plan to help millions of people who are in the country illegally. The programs would apply to parents of children who are U.S. citizens or living in the country legally.
The eligibility will also stretch into Obama’s 2012 effort, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), which applies to those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. More than 700,000 have taken advantage of DACA. The new program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), and DACA could aid as many as 4 million people, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The protection from deportation is “discretionary, temporary, and revocable relief from the daily fear that they will be separated from their families,” said Thomas Saenz to the court, arguing on behalf of three mothers who have U.S.-citizen children.
Texas, along with 26 other states led by Republicans, are challenging Obama’s immigration programs that have been put on hold by lower courts. Republicans claim that Obama does not have the authority to alter immigration law, while the president said he was acting on the matter because Congress had failed to overhaul the immigration system.
The 27 states claim the administration took over power that belongs to Congress. Justice Anthony Kennedy supported that view.
“It’s as if … the president is setting the policy and the Congress is executing it. That’s just upside down,” Kennedy said.
Chief Justice John Roberts also strongly questioned Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., suggesting there are few limitations to the president’s power under the administration’s view of immigration law.
“Under your argument, could the president grant deferred removal to every … unlawfully present alien in the United States right now?” Roberts asked.
“Definitely not,” Verrilli said.
It was not clear whether Roberts was satisfied with the answer and subsequent explanation.
Other justices questioned why Congress provides only enough money to deport about 400,000 people annually.
The bulk of immigrants who live in the United States illegally “are here whether we want them or not,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.
During the arguments, hundreds of pro-immigration demonstrators stood outside the Supreme Court, some with signs saying “Keep families together.” Supporters also took over Twitter.
— Michigan United (@MichiganUnited) April 18, 2016
— Bob Fulkerson (@bobfulkerson) April 18, 2016
The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by June. If the court is split, the case could end in a 4-4 tie, after Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent death. That could leave DACA and DAPA in limbo, most likely through the end of Obama’s presidency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.