Obama's Immigration Executive Orders to Receive Supreme Court Review

An activist holds a sign near a rally against raids on immigrants without documentation, in New York on January 8. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

President Barack Obama's controversial executive orders on immigration will get their day in court after two years of intense rhetorical and legal back-and-forth between the White House and Republicans.

The Supreme Court will hear the case of United States v. Texas this spring, during the presidential primaries, and should rule before the end of June.

The court's decision will have wide-reaching consequences for the millions of immigrants without documentation whom Obama's orders protected from deportation. It is also likely to heat up and already simmering debate about immigration and the rule of law in the 2016 presidential campaign. Republicans have roundly criticized the president's orders.

The court will decide the legality of two White House initiatives — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which protects immigrants without documentation who have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and whose children are American citizens or lawful permanent residents, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which shields immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday.

Both programs have been on hold since February 2015, when a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction halting their implementation. In November 2015, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas judge's injunction. The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.

Since their announcement, the orders have become a flashpoint for conservatives, who view them as unlawful. And, in the Republican primary contest, where immigration remains one of the most important topics of discussion, Obama's orders have become synonymous with executive overreach.

Immigrant rights groups immediately applauded the decision.

"For a year, more than 5 million immigrants, including U.S. citizen children of DAPA-eligible parents, have been denied relief from deportations that was promised in President Obama's immigration initiatives," said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a nonprofit, in a statement. "The Texas lawsuit is mean-spirited, immoral and without merit. Finally, the fight for justice has reached the Supreme Court. We applaud the court's decision to hear the case, and we hope it fully considers the sound legal reasoning behind the president's administrative relief."

Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, called on the court to uphold DAPA and DACA.

"This is a momentous day for the millions of DREAMers and all American families that would benefit from the implementation of DAPA and the expansion of DACA," he said in a statement. ("DREAMers" refers to the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, which, if passed, would create a pathway to citizenship for children without documentation who grew up in the U.S.)

"These initiatives are based upon strong legal and historical precedent and are entirely legitimate exercises of discretion delegated years ago by Congress," Jawetz continued. "We hope the Supreme Court of the United States will do the right thing: reject this politically motivated lawsuit, respect the authority of the secretary of homeland security to set smart national immigration enforcement policies, and unfreeze DAPA and expanded DACA."

Conservatives, meanwhile, called on the court to strike down the programs. "Only Congress can rewrite the immigration laws. The Obama administration has a long history of trying to get its way undemocratically, and this case is no different," said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal organization, in a statement. "The Supreme Court has already blocked many of President Obama's power grabs. This case will give the court yet another chance to do so."

The court is likely to hear the case in April, and a decision is expected by June.