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On Monday, April 18, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Texas v. United States, 15-674, which is the action by the State of Texas (along with 25 other states) to block the Obama Administration’s implementation of expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (“DAPA”).
I noted in an earlier piece that in addition to the questions presented by the Obama Administration’s petition, the Court also directed the parties to brief and argue the plaintiff-states’ Take Care Clause claim. Another big issue that the Court would need to address, indeed a threshold issue, is whether the State of Texas had “standing” to bring the action in the first place.
Prior to oral argument, most commentators (whether legal or otherwise) thought that Chief Justice Roberts might avoid dealing with the main issues in the case, and instead focus on the threshold issue of standing, the question being whether the states challenging the Obama Administration’s plan to implement DAPA and expanded DACA suffered the sort of direct and concrete injury that gives them standing to sue. Historically, Chief Justice Roberts has not been a proponent of resolving political disputes in the courts, which this one obviously is.
Texas (and the other states) argued that they have standing because they might incur additional costs when issuing drivers’ licenses to beneficiaries of the DACA and DAPA initiatives. In reality however, these claims are nothing more than allegations of indirect or incidental effects, and interestingly, since the State of Texas subsidizes driver’s licenses, any alleged harm is really of its own creation.
In my view, the issue of standing became much more important with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016. If Chief Justice Roberts was really focused on the threshold issue of standing, he might then try to decide the case on more narrow procedural grounds, and avoid what could end up being a deadlock of 4 – 4 among the remaining voting justices (and thereby allowing the district court’s injunction prohibiting the implementation of the Obama Administration’s November 2014 immigration program to stand).
And then came April 18. Within minutes of the opening of oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts seemed troubled, if not unpersuaded, by the Obama Administration’s argument on standing. Essentially, Chief Justice Roberts stated that if Texas did deny licenses to DACA and DAPA beneficiaries, those individuals would then likely sue the state, perhaps on Equal Protection grounds. Chief Justice Roberts opined that this would put Texas in “a real Catch-22” (i.e., the state can remedy the legal harm by refusing to give licenses to some immigrants, but in doing so, it would open itself up to a lawsuit). Not a good start at all.
The Court then went into the real issues, and not surprisingly, the justices were pretty much split down ideological grounds. So, what could happen?
First, I suppose the Court could still dismiss the action for a lack of standing. If this happens, the entire case will come to an end. The Obama Administration could then implement DAPA and expanded DACA. Unfortunately, I don’t see this as likely (but I can still dream).
Second, the Court could reverse the Fifth Circuit on any number of legal issues, thereby allowing the Obama Administration’s initiatives to move forward. If it did so, however, this would likely not be the end of the lawsuit. That’s because the district court could then go on to decide if the Obama Administration’s initiatives are constitutional. And, then the decision of the district court could be appealed, basically meaning the entire case could go back to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court … again.
Finally, the Court could affirm the Fifth Circuit, which would uphold the district court’s preliminary injunction. This means the case would also go back to the district court for the case to simply continue on. As with the second scenario, any resulting district court decision could later be appealed, meaning the case could again go back to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court.
I have noted this before. President Obama’s administrative action was but the latest among many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who relied on their executive authority to deal with important immigration issues during their administrations. According to the American Immigration Council, since 1956, there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect thousand and sometimes millions of immigrants, in the United States at the time without status, usually in the humanitarian interest of simply keeping families together. Today, however, the climate is very different, and what essentially should be a legislative issue being resolved in Congress is now a political issue being resolved in the federal courts.
Now it’s a waiting game until the end of the Court’s term in June. It seems to me, based upon Chief Justice Roberts’ questions, that the odds of a favorable decision from the Court at this juncture are not very high.
 The questions presented by the Obama Administration were (a) whether a State that voluntarily provides a subsidy to all aliens with deferred action has Article III standing and a justiciable cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., to challenge the Guidance because it will lead to more aliens having deferred action, (b) whether the Guidance is arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law, and (c) whether the Guidance was subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures. The “Guidance” refers to the Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum dated November 20, 2014 directing his subordinates to establish a process for considering deferred action for certain aliens who have lived in the United States for five years and either came here as children or already have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
 The question presented here was “[w]hether the Guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Art. II, §3.”
 Clearly nobody who follows the Supreme Court was counting on Justice Scalia to vote in favor of the Obama Administration’s position in this case in any event.
Some time has now passed since President Obama announced on November 20, 2014 his intention to go it alone to “fix” of our “broken immigration system.” Since that announcement, lawyers such as myself were hopeful that we could start working with clients on their applications for expanded relief under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), and later this Spring under the President’s new “deferred action” program for the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (“LPR’s), commonly known as “DAPA”.
That all came to a screeching halt on February 16, 2015, when Texas federal district Judge Andrew S. Hanen granted a temporary injunction against the implementation of President Obama’s executive action regarding the DAPA program and the expansion of the President’s June 2012 DACA initiative. The injunction temporarily blocks President Obama’s executive action aimed at providing administrative relief from removal to millions of immigrants. President Obama has vowed to appeal. This, of course, begs the question of whether the President’s actions were lawful. I think they were.
A (Very) Brief History of Previous Exercises of Discretionary Relief
President Obama’s administrative action was but the latest among many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who relied on their executive authority to deal with important immigration issues during their administrations. According to the American Immigration Council, since 1956, there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect thousand and sometimes millions of immigrants, in the United States at the time without status, usually in the humanitarian interest of simply keeping families together. So why all the fuss now?
Prosecutorial Discretion, the Immigration Law and Regulations, and the Supreme Court
DACA was established by executive action in June 2012, and was expanded by the President’s announcement in November 2014. DAPA was first announced by the President in November 2014. Prosecutorial discretion generally refers to the authority of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to decide how the immigration laws should be applied, and it is a legal practice that has existed in law enforcement for quite some time.
For example, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) and its implementing regulations are replete with examples where DHS will either refrain from an enforcement action, like electing not to serve and thereafter file a charging document (commonly known as a Notice to Appear) with the Immigration Court, as well as well as decisions to provide a discretionary remedies when an immigrant is already in removal proceedings, such as granting stays of removal, granting parole, or granting deferred action.
The INA itself authorizes the President’s legal authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including by prohibiting judicial review of three (3) types of actions involving the exercise of prosecutorial discretion (i.e., the decisions to commence removal proceedings, to adjudicate cases, and to execute removal orders).
Congress has also legislated deferred action in the INA itself as a means by which the executive branch may use, in the exercise of its prosecutorial discretion, to protect certain victims of crime, abuse, or human trafficking.
Notably, the INA also has a specific provision which recognizes the President’s authority to authorize employment for non-citizens who do not otherwise receive it automatically by virtue of their particular immigration status. See INA § 274A(h)(3). It is this provision, in conjunction with other regulations, that currently confers eligibility for work authorization under DACA (and would do so again under expanded DACA and DAPA).
Beyond this, memoranda issued by federal agencies authorized to implement and enforce our nation’s immigration laws recognize prosecutorial discretion too, including a seminal one issued by legacy-Immigration and Naturalization Service “INS”) Commissioner Doris Meissner in 1990 to her senior agency staff. There are earlier memoranda as well opining as to the legality of prosecutorial discretion too.
Finally, the Supreme Court held in Arizona v. United States that a “[a] principal feature of the [deportation] system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. . . . Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue [deportation] at all . . . .” Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012).
As a result of all of the above (i.e., the INA and its implementing regulations, Supreme Court decisions, and agency memoranda), there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances since 1956 where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect aliens, generally in the interest of simply keeping families together.
So What Happens Now?
Our history is replete with examples of U.S. presidents, in the name of prosecutorial discretion, issuing directives that provided for deferred action (or whatever they may have called it at the time) to non-citizens of the United States, and indeed Judge Hanen, in his written decision, affirmed the executive branch’s right to exercise prosecutorial discretion.
Previous lawsuits against similar executive actions have failed in the past. Indeed a similarly politically motivated lawsuit was thrown out in December 2014 when Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio argued that President Obama’s announcements were unconstitutional. In 2012, the State of Mississippi challenged the legality of DACA in a case similar to the current Texas lawsuit, and that case was dismissed because the judge found the perceived economic hardship the state claimed was purely speculative.
As I have previously argued and substantiated in this blog, studies have shown that deferred action initiatives, apart from being the right thing to do, are economically beneficial to our country. In his decision, Judge Hanen cites the government’s “failure to secure the borders” and then goes on to support the plaintiffs’ position of supposed costs to the states without any evidence whatsoever in the record. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”) and others have argued that Judge Hanen disregarded information submitted by the government and AILA as to the widespread economic and social benefits that the expanded DACA and DAPA programs would provide. They’re right.
Again, the Obama Administration has indicated it will appeal, and at the same time seek a stay to the enforcement of Judge Hanen’s order. I am cautiously optimistic that the government will prevail. In the meantime, it’s noteworthy to point out that those who have previously been granted DACA are not at all affected by Judge Hanen’s ruling. This ruling only delays the start of DAPA and the expansion of DACA.