The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear a case challenging President Barack Obama's plan to protect more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the United States.
The president's executive order was aimed at deferring deportation of parents of American-born children and permanent residents, but it was opposed by 26 states, almost all of them led by Republican governors who often oppose policies supported by the Democratic president.
The court's decision to hear the case could impact the 2016 presidential election and the president's legacy, since it was one of his broader executive orders. He signed it after the Republican-controlled Congress failed to enact changes in the country's immigration policies.
Decision expected in June
The Supreme Court said it would hear legal arguments about Obama's immigration order in April and decide it by late June. That would be about a month before the national Republican and Democratic parties select their presidential nominees ahead of the national election in November to pick Obama's successor.
The White House had sought the expedited review of lower court orders blocking the Obama plan, which kept the administration from issuing work permits to the immigrants and allowing them to receive some benefits from the federal government.
"We are confident that the policies will be upheld as lawful," the White House said.
Texas leads opposition
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, leading the fight against Obama's executive order, said, "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. 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.”
But 15 other states and Washington, the national capital city, told the Supreme Court last month that Obama acted within his legal authority.
When he spelled out his executive order in 2014, Obama said it would allow immigrants who have been in the U.S. more than five years and have children in the country to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
States opposed to Obama's executive order have won every legal round so far. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argues cases for the government before the Supreme Court, said that if the lower court orders are allowed to stand, it would force the immigrants "to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families."
Key election issue
Disputes over U.S. immigration policies have been at the forefront of the current presidential contest. The Republican frontrunner, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, has called for deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and building an impenetrable wall along the country's southern border with Mexico. Other Republican contenders have also taken a hard line against illegal immigration into the country.
Meanwhile, the leading Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has vowed to expand Obama's effort to protect illegal immigrants from deportation.
Even as Obama sought Supreme Court review of his executive order, the U.S. government this month embarked on a new deportation effort to send about 120 Central American parents and their children back to their home countries after they crossed into the United States illegally in a wave of migration over the last two years.
The round-up of the Central American families has drawn protests from Latino advocacy groups, but the government says the migrants do not meet the legal immigration standards to stay in the U.S.