It is now more likely that the Supreme Court will have the final say as to whether one of the most sweeping immigration plans to date will ever see the light of day.
The high court on Tuesday granted the 26 states challenging President Obama's executive actions on immigration just eight extra days to respond to the administration's appeal. The extension is a far cry from the full 30 days that the states initially requested, which was seen as a delay tactic designed to punt the issue into 2017 and run out the clock on Obama's final term in office.
The states challenging the executive actions now have until Dec. 29 to file briefs opposing Supreme Court review. And though the timeline is tight, it gives a narrow opening for the court to decide by mid-January whether to take up the case. If the justices determine that the case warrants review, oral arguments would then follow in April, with an ultimate decision coming by late June.
The lives of nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants hang in the balance while the issue works its way through the courts. The executive measures would have built on an existing program known as DACA, which offers some undocumented immigrants temporary work status and a shield from deportation. The new programs would have expanded the pool of eligible DREAMers (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids) and the undocumented parents of U.S.-born citizens and legal permanent residents.
The latest executive measures have been on hold since February, blocked by two notoriously conservative lower courts -- the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The White House has seen the Supreme Court as it's greatest shot at lifting the temporary freeze on the programs before the end of Obama's second term.
If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, its decision would land squarely before the national conventions naming each party's presidential nominee. It will be up to Obama's successor to decide whether his legacy on immigration will carry on past 2016. So far; all Republican candidates have vowed to chip away at that legacy; Democratic nominees have said they will take executive actions a step further.
"The decision today appears to recognize the urgency of the situation, both for immigrants and for the country. Like the nativists in Congress blocking reform, the plaintiffs in this case seek to block progress by silencing immigrants and depriving them of political equality, but they will be on the losing side of history," Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), said in a statement. "The status quo is cruel, unjust, and discriminatory. We must continue to seek relief by every means available. No one at this point should be relying exclusively on Washington for relief."