WASHINGTON: Hundreds of protesters rallied on Monday outside the US Supreme Court as it weighed a major immigration case that could impact the fate of millions of people facing possible deportation and further raise the stakes in the 2016 White House race.
Heart-shaped red signs reading “Keep families together” were dotted among the crowd of 300 or so demonstrators who gathered amid tight security ahead of the high-profile hearing.
The court’s 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.
Its decision is expected by the end of June.
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.
“Today is an incredibly important day at the Supreme Court. The fate of millions of immigrants and their families is at stake,” tweeted Jorge Ramos, the country’s best-known Spanish-speaking news anchor, who has clashed publicly with Trump on immigration.
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 Supreme Court hearing also puts the spotlight on Obama’s efforts to circumvent a hostile Congress, with detractors accusing him of overstepping his authority.
Twenty-six states, almost all of them Republican-led, have refused to apply the measures and the Obama policy is on hold for now under lower courts’ orders.
Mirroring Obama’s gridlock with Congress is that of a Supreme Court evenly split between liberals and conservatives while Senate Republicans refuse to hold hearings on filling the ninth seat left vacant by the death of justice Antonin Scalia.
The eight justices are examining several narrow questions on the immigration case, such as whether Obama’s initiatives impact states enough to give them the legal “standing” to sue the federal government.
That question is key to Texas, which claimed it would cost the state millions of dollars in public funds to provide driver’s licenses to the huge group of immigrants who would be allowed to stay in the United States.
If the justices can’t agree, lower court rulings, which largely sided with the states against the Obama administration, stand.