President Obama's Immigration Actions Are Lawful

When Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, it recognized that federal resources should be expended to maximize efforts that keep our country safe. To do so, Congress directed the executive branch to determine who is a priority for deportation, and who is not. Since Congress provides only enough money each year to deport a small percentage of undocumented people, it allows the Executive Branch broad discretion to decide who should - and who should not - be removed.

Last November, President Obama exercised this legal authority when he introduced a number of initiatives designed to improve our broken immigration system. He announced the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would allow qualified parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents temporary relief from deportation. He also announced an expansion to the successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative to provide temporary relief to a broader category of DREAMers, individuals who grew up in the United States after being brought here many years ago at a young age. In doing so, the Administration systematically fulfilled its obligation to set priorities for deportation, as Congress directed.

However, Republican Governors and Attorneys General in twenty-six states filed a lawsuit to block implementation of these efforts. Regardless of the outcome at the Fifth Circuit, where the issue is being argued today, I expect that this case will be resolved by the Supreme Court, as - quite often - the most important legal questions of the day ultimately are.

The Supreme Court has already made clear the Administration's broad authority to determine how to prioritize enforcement of our immigration ‎laws. Just three years ago, the Court in Arizona v. United States explained that a "principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials," including as to "whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all." Furthermore, the Court observed in 1999 that the Executive has the complete discretion to abandon the deportation process at any point.

In fact, the Supreme Court has long held that an "agency generally cannot act against each technical violation of the statute it is charged with enforcing," and that "an agency's decision not to take enforcement action" generally should not overturned by a court.

Earlier this year, 180 Members of the House of Representatives joined me in filing a friend-of-the-court brief that is before the Fifth Circuit Court. Our brief explains that as Members of Congress, we believe strongly in the separation of powers. We frequently defend congressional prerogatives against executive and judicial overreach. But part of ensuring that the laws are enforced by the Executive in a manner that is rational, effective, and faithful to Congressional intent is to make sure that federal courts honor the deliberate choices made by Congress. We make that deliberate choice when we vest the executive branch with the discretionary authority to determine how best to enforce the law.

That is precisely the case when it comes to immigration enforcement efforts. Congress expressly granted the Executive authority to establish regulations, issue instructions, set national immigration enforcement policies and priorities, authorize the employment of noncitizens, and "perform such other acts as he deems necessary for carrying out his authority." This authority is clear, unambiguous, and has already withstood judicial review.

The President's actions are not only lawful, they are also practical. They will allow the government to focus limited resources on serious criminals, recent arrivals, and threats to national security. They are consistent with basic American values like accountability, family unity, and compassion. What's more, they will also provide a tremendous boost to our nation's economy. A recent study by the Center for American Progress shows that DAPA and expanded DACA will grow the U.S. economy by $230 billion over 10 years. In my home state of California alone, over that 10-year period, the economy is expected to expand by $75 billion, increasing the earnings of all state residents by $39 billion, and creating an annual average of 9,500 jobs.

Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike support fixing our broken immigration system in the same ways President Obama's DACA and DAPA policies address. I am confident that the President acted well within his legal authority and that the courts will ultimately vindicate these efforts. In the meantime, how public officials respond to these commonsense reforms will define and shape the elections in 2016 and the political landscape for years to come.

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D- Calif.) is serving her eleventh term in Congress representing most of the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County. She serves as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee