The contentious debate over whether President Obama has the authority to defer the deportation of millions of people living in the country illegally, and then to grant some of them temporary permission to work, will finally get the hearing it deserves before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year, a district court judge in Texas issued an injunction halting the president's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program as well as his expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in response to a legal challenge by 26 states. Those initiatives would make more than 4 million people brought here as children, or whose children are in the country legally, eligible for three-year renewable reprieves. Now the high court says it will determine whether the injunction halting them was proper.
The lower court rulings struck us at the time as more about politics than jurisprudence. Federal laws and court precedent clearly grant the administration broad leeway to use "prosecutorial discretion" in enforcing immigration codes — see the Erwin Chemerinsky piece on the op-ed page for the legal argument in favor of the president's executive actions. The federal Immigration and Nationalization Act also allows the government to authorize work permits for people who are given permission to remain in the country, a practical as well as humanitarian recognition that it makes little sense to consign people to joblessness or illegal work once they have been allowed to stay.
We are heartened that the justices said they would look specifically at the question of whether the president's actions violate the constitutional admonition that the president must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." In our view, that is just what he is doing in prioritizing targets for deportation.
Not only is the president on sound legal ground, but he is adopting cogent public policy that shouldn't be hamstrung by politically motivated court challenges. The battle over immigration reform is a political fight that would ideally be resolved through legislation, but it has been left to dangle because of Congress' repeated failure to address it. There are solutions to the problem, but it sometimes seems that GOP leaders would rather leave the issues unaddressed and keep immigration out there as an evergreen topic to fire up conservative voters.
Oral arguments in the case are expected in April, which could lead to a decision by the end of June — just in time for the final stretch of the 2016 election cycle. The court should act quickly to blow away the smoke and affirm the president's authority. And voters should blow away a little smoke themselves. If they want this problem fixed, they need to elect people who will address it in a serious and humane manner.