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Challenge to Obama’s Immigration Program Taken Up by High Court

(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to look at the knots that have been tying up President Barack Obama's immigration policy for nearly a year.

It is estimated that Obama's program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents or DAPA, implicates the legal status of millions of undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents living in the country.

The Supreme Court's order Tuesday means that the justices will decide the case before Obama leaves office in January 2017.

Obama unveiled the program in November 2014 after efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress failed amid partisan gridlock.

By focusing the government's limited resources on deporting serious criminals and recent border crossers, rather than law-abiding immigrants with family ties to the United States, DAPA would give qualifying immigrants the right to live in the United States without being deported for three-year terms that may be renewed.

Those who qualify could apply for driver's licenses and federal work permits.

Texas and 25 other Republican-led states quickly filed suit, saying the U.S. Constitution does not authorize presidents to take such executive actions on immigration policy.

Though DAPA was scheduled to take effect in May 2015, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen blocked the program with an injunction in February.

After the Fifth Circuit twice refused to remove the injunction, the Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court on Nov. 20, claiming that Texas' choice to pay for driver's licenses for qualifying immigrants doesn't give it standing to challenge the program.

Texas quickly requested an extension to file an opposing brief.

The Supreme Court took up the case Tuesday, without comment as is its custom.

In addition to the questions presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: "Whether the Guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Art. II, §3."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pointed to previous rulings on the case as evidence that DAPA will fail before the Supreme Court.

"As federal courts have already ruled three times, there are limits to the president's authority, and those limits enacted by Congress were exceeded when the president unilaterally sought to grant 'lawful presence' to more than 4 million unauthorized aliens who are in this country unlawfully," Paxton said in a statement. "The court should affirm what President Obama said himself on more than 20 occasions: that he cannot unilaterally rewrite congressional laws and circumvent the people's representatives."

The Constitutional Accountability Center greeted the news with applause.

"The president's program has been delayed for far too long by this political lawsuit and the clearly erroneous decisions of the lower courts," Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel for the group, said in a statement. "The lives of millions of children and families in America have been disrupted and held in limbo - a situation the president's action was designed to alleviate - and they deserve the Court's careful and prompt attention."

Brianne Gorod, appellate counsel with the Constitutional Accountability Center, said the law dictates a reversal.

"The Obama administration's immigration action was clearly lawful," Gorod said in a statement. "The nation's immigration laws give the executive branch significant discretion to determine how best to implement those laws in a manner that serves the national interest in public safety and national security. The action at issue here is legally no different than countless other exercises of executive discretion engaged in by presidents of both parties and blessed by both parties in Congress."

The League of United Latin American Citizens said it expects the Supreme Court to rule in favor of immigrants.

"We have full confidence that the Supreme Court will find that the executive actions are in fact constitutional," LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes said in a statement. "Such a finding will enable the orders to go into effect and provide relief to the millions of individuals whose only wish is to participate in the American dream."

Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders told Twitter followers that he supports DAPA and that he will uphold the program as president.

"I am confident the president has the legal authority to take to take this bold action," Sanders tweeted. "Clearly the best form of action is for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to put the undocumented people on a path toward citizenship."

Lawmakers' inability to reach consensus on whether undocumented immigrants should be granted a so-called "path toward citizenship" sunk efforts to reform the nation's immigration laws after the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill in 2013.

DAPA doesn't include any such path. It would only grant qualifying immigrants the right to be lawfully present in the United States.

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