WASHINGTON — The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn lower courts and declare that the president has the authority to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to remain and work in the United States without fear of deportation.
The administration petitioned the justices to step in only 10 days after a federal appeals court ruled against President Barack Obama's program. Unless the Supreme Court agrees to consider the issue and overrules the lower court, Obama has little chance of implementing the program before he leaves office in January 2017.
The case raises major issues involving the separation of powers and federalism, and it has been one of the major flash points of disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans running for president.
Obama announced the program through an executive order exactly a year ago Friday.
Then Texas and 25 other states sued, saying that Obama had exceeded his authority with a plan that would allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in this country.
The administration contends that the states have no legal standing to sue because it is up to the federal government to set immigration policy and that the Department of Homeland Security did not violate federal laws in devising the new program.
As a practical matter, the government says it does not have the resources to annually deport more than about 400,000 of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Obama's program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, would allow such undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits if they have lived in the country for at least five years and have not committed felonies or repeated misdemeanors.
The administration says the program is simply a form of prioritizing which undocumented immigrants the government will move first to deport. But the states have said it is an illegal power grab by the president, carrying out a program that Congress would not authorize.
Texas and others said the plan runs afoul of federal laws and saddles states with providing benefits for millions of people now eligible for work permits and other forms of government aid.
A federal district court and then a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, in a 2-1 decision, agreed. Both courts have kept the program from being implemented.
Time is critical if the Supreme Court is to review the matter while the Obama administration remains in office.
Generally, the court must accept a case by January in order to schedule it for oral arguments and a decision before the court's term ends in June. The decision by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli to file the government's petition Friday starts a process that would allow the court, absent any delays, to do just that.