The US Supreme Court weighs a major immigration case tomorrow that could impact the fate of millions of people facing possible deportation and further raise the stakes in the 2016 White House race.
The eight justices are due to determine the legality of an ambitious bid by President Barack Obama to shield from deportation nearly five million undocumented immigrants.
Immigration is already an explosive issue in the presidential race, where Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has sharpened fault lines by vowing to build a wall along the Mexican border, and deport all 11 million or so undocumented migrants living in the United States.
But the Supreme Court hearing also puts the spotlight on Obama’s efforts to circumvent a hostile Congress, with his detractors accusing him of unfair, even illegal, overreach.
At stake are a series of executive actions taken by Obama in November 2014, after he failed to enact a promised immigration reform with a Congress held by his Republican foes.
One initiative shields from deportation people who have lived in the country since 2010, with no criminal record, and with children who are American citizens or lawful residents. Another protects immigrants who entered the United States before they turned 16.
The US federal government under Obama has upheld the policy of deporting migrants, at a rate that rose from 390,000 the year he took power in 2009, to peak at almost 440,000 in fiscal year 2013, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security.
In unveiling his actions, however, Obama stressed that wanted to prioritize deportations of “felons, not families. Criminals not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”
Twenty-six states, almost all of them Republican-led, have refused to apply the measures, securing a string of court rulings that found Obama to have overstepped his authority.
Republicans brought the legal dispute as part of broader efforts targeting signature Obama reforms such as the sweeping health care law commonly known as Obamacare.
“This lawsuit to stop President Obama’s illegal immigration policy is about a concept as old as the nation’s founding — the separation of powers,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement.