WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would ask the Supreme Court to save its plans to shield from deportation millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
The action could advance a legal confrontation during a presidential race already roiled by disputes over U.S. immigration policy.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Monday effectively blocked President Barack Obama's plan to protect as many as 5 million immigrants, primarily the immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. It upheld a Texas-based federal judge's earlier injunction.
The ruling came in a case brought by Nebraska and 25 other states. The states, led by Texas, argued that Obama's action was unconstitutional and would force them to spend more on law enforcement, health care and education.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said Tuesday that the appeals court "properly analyzed in their decision that the federal government was acting outside its authority."
He said the administration's decision to seek further review means it probably will be months before the final results of the case are known.
Another coalition of states, including Iowa, had filed a motion with the 5th Circuit supporting the administration's position.
Charles Ellison, legal director of Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska, said he expects that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, given the number of states involved with it.
He also expressed confidence that the court will find the deferred action programs "a lawful exercise of executive authority."
"It's certainly a momentous case," he said. "The question is whether the executive branch has the authority to set its own enforcement priorities."
Justice for Our Neighbors and other legal services groups have encountered several people who would benefit from the program at issue, Ellison said. For now, they are being advised to wait and watch and get prepared in case the programs do go forward.
He estimated that the programs could help up to half of the 45,000 or so undocumented immigrants in Nebraska. Most of those affected are the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents.
The ruling leaves in limbo the future of a program called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
Some politicians also want to end Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects from deportation immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
DACA, as the program is known, was seen as an administrative answer to the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide legal status to those young immigrants. To date, more than 720,000 young immigrants have been granted permission to live and work legally in the United States.
It's unclear when the Justice Department will file its appeal or whether the high court would take up the case, but the administration may be running out of time to get a final decision before Obama leaves office in early 2017.
While the appeal moves forward, not much will change for the millions of immigrants Obama sought to help without action from Congress.
World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.
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