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Appeals Court Deals Blow To Obama's Immigration Plan

It was about a year ago that President Obama announced executive actions that would shield millions of immigrants from deportation.
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It was about a year ago that President Obama announced executive actions that would shield millions of immigrants from deportation.
(Updated at 11:32 a.m. ET.)

A federal appeals court in New Orleans dealt President Obama a big blow on Monday when it ruled that Obama had overstepped his legal authority in attempting to shield up to 5 million immigrants from deportation.

The Obama administration has vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

NPR's Richard Gonzales filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"The 2-to-1 ruling upholds an injunction by a federal judge in Texas who blocked President Obama's executive actions on immigration.

"It was just about a year ago when the president announced his plan to allow parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to remain here and work without fear of deportation.

"He also wanted to extend that protection to younger immigrants brought here as children. That plan was challenged by 26 states, led by Texas. The appellate court agreed that the president had overreached his authority.

"Immigration activists argued that the president was acting within his authority."

In a statement, Department of Justice spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said the department disagrees with the ruling.

"The Department of Justice remains committed to taking steps that will resolve the immigration litigation as quickly as possible in order to allow DHS to bring greater accountability to our immigration system by prioritizing the removal of the worst offenders, not people who have long ties to the United States and who are raising American children," Rodenbush said.

At issue here is whether the executive actions fit within the powers of prosecutorial discretion granted to the executive branch.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Obama's executive action goes beyond merely saying that the executive would not try to deport these immigrants. Instead, the majority argues, Obama's executive action also allows those individuals to be "lawfully present" in the United States.

"[Obama's immigration plan] is foreclosed by Congress' careful plan; the program is 'manifestly contrary to the statute' and therefore was properly enjoined," the two judges in the majority write.

In English, it means that the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 expressly lays out how and when an immigrant can legally remain in the country. The president, the court ruled, cannot unilaterally change that, even if Congress refuses to enact new immigration laws.

Another sticking point in this case is that the Obama administration argued that the court should not even be taking up this issue because it cannot review prosecutorial discretion action that the executive is making on a case-by-case basis.

The Obama administration argued that's how it would roll out this program, but the court dismissed that argument.

The lone dissenter in the case, Judge Carolyn Dineen King, writes that when the court dismissed that claim, it went way too far.

"Although the very face of the Memorandum makes clear that it must be applied with such [case-by-case] discretion, the district court concluded on its own — prior to [the immigration program's] implementation, based on improper burden-shifting, and without seeing the need even to hold an evidentiary hearing — that the Memorandum is a sham, a mere 'pretext' for the Executive's plan 'not [to] enforce the immigration laws as to over four million illegal aliens,' " King writes.

King concludes: "I have a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.