What’s next for Obama’s immigration actions in court?

In November, President Obama announced new executive actions on U.S. immigration policy; 26 states then sued the president for what they say is an overstep of his Constitutional authority. Today, a panel of federal judges in New Orleans heard arguments in an appeal. Hari Sreenivasan learns more from Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times.

Read the Full Transcript


    The long-running battle over immigration in the U.S. landed in court today, as three federal judges heard arguments over President Obama's most recent executive actions.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.


    The case before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals pits the Obama administration and its latest waivers of deportation against just over half of states in the country; 26 states have sued the president, arguing that his immigration policy oversteps his constitutional authority.

    At issue are executive actions the president announced in November. As a reminder, the administration wants to expand who qualifies for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The latest action would include undocumented immigrants over 30 years old who were brought to the U.S. as children.

    The president's actions also would block deportation for parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, provided those undocumented immigrants have lived in the country since 2010 and pass background checks.

    Joining us now to discuss the case is Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Houston bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times. She was in court in New Orleans this morning.

    So, tell us first, what are the arguments that you heard?

  • MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE, Los Angeles Times:

    Well, we heard both from the federal government. You had a Justice Department lawyer who was speaking on behalf of the government arguing that DACA and DAPA, as they are referred to, are discretionary programs that are decided case-by-case, that it's not a broad sweeping policy that's being imposed on the states and that the states don't bear any costs associated with that.

    On the other side, you had Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, who was arguing that the states do bear costs, that they have to, in Texas in particular, pay the cost of driver's licenses, health care costs, education costs associated with the folks who would benefit from these deferred action programs.

    And the judges asked a lot of questions. It was a very active, animated hearing.


    Is this a discussion about states' rights or about immigration policy?


    Well, it depends who you would ask.

    I think the Texas folks would say that this has to do — and they did say in fact — afterwards, they emerged from court and we had a chance to talk to the solicitor general of Texas a little bit. And he said this is a constitutional issue, this is an issue of not an immigration question, but an issue of the president overreaching his constitutional authority.

    But on the other side, I think you heard the government lawyer, Ben Mizer, saying this is an issue of immigration policy, of the federal government making policy, and that if you allow one state or in this case Texas joined by 25 other states to intervene, they could intervene at any point on any kind of federal policy to stop it.


    So, backing up just a bit, how did this case get in front of a court in New Orleans? Is this the matter of somebody shopping for a favorable outcome based on the judges that will be picked or the circuit?


    Well, some observers have said that that's what happened, that there was judge-shopping going on in terms of where the original case was filed by the states.

    It was filed before Judge Hanen down in Brownsville in the Southern District of Texas. Judge Hanen, based on a reading of his previous opinions, could be considered a fairly outspoken conservative judge. On the other hand, the panel that was chosen today was assigned at random.

    They drew these three judges, two of whom were appointed by Republican judges, one of whom was appointed by Obama. At this point — and the questions that they asked today were a real mix. I talked to folks from both sides after the hearing and they said they really weren't know how this is going to turn out on the appellate level.


    Did they both feel optimistic? Did they feel like they got their case heard, that perhaps the judges were asking questions that supported their side?



    In particular, I talked to some of the individuals who qualified for these programs for deferred action. And they said they felt like the judges asked thoughtful questions, and that they were fairly open-minded.


    OK, so what's next here? What's the timeline? How soon can this court decide, and if, for example, it decides not in the favor of the Obama administration, is there I guess the final appeal left for the Supreme Court?


    Well, there's a number of different appeals.

    What they were dealing with, what the panel was dealing with today was specifically the state, the injunction that the judge, the federal judge in Texas had imposed halting deferred action. So that judge back in Texas is still dealing with the underlying case and the injunction. Those are two separate things. We were just talking about the stay today.

    It is unclear how soon the panel could rule on the stay. I checked right before we went on. They hadn't ruled yet. They weren't expected to rule today, but you never know. And both sides are sort of anticipated to appeal if it's not found in their favor. They can appeal for a hearing before the entire Fifth Circuit and then they can also to the U.S. Supreme Court.


    All right, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Houston bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times, joining us from New Orleans, thanks so much.


    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment