by Leticia M. Saucedo, Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Legal Education, UC Davis School of Law
One year ago today, President Obama announced his administration’s executive actions on immigration. Known as the DAPA Memo, the announcement described executive actions that would have exercised prosecutorial discretion not to deport millions. Since then, a district court in Texas has stalled its implementation with an injunction, claiming that the executive branch overstepped its authority by offering deferred action to millions of undocumented persons. Most recently in Texas v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed, noting that the executive actions were outside of any authority delegated by Congress. The Fifth Circuit denied the federal government’s petition to stay the federal district court’s injunction, characterizing the administration’s actions as proposing to confer deferred action and then employment authorization categorically to millions in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The court got it backward in its analysis.
The Court of Appeals premised its analysis on the notion that because the government was outside its authority to grant deferred action, it was also outside its authority to grant employment authorization. Here is where the Court of Appeals got it wrong. As the government argued and the dissent in the appellate decision concluded, it is the agency’s authority to regulate worksite immigration enforcement that allows it to also grant deferred action on a category of individuals for its convenience.
The employer sanctions provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) –which established the parameters of employment authorization – expressly grant wide latitude to the agency, and Congress specifically intended to provide the agency with this broad authority. When Congress first set up employer sanctions and a worksite immigration enforcement scheme in IRCA, it made the explicit decision to give the executive branch the authority and discretion to provide employment authorization to certain classes of noncitizens. INA § 274A(h)(3) defines an “unauthorized alien” for employment purposes:
As used in this section, the term “unauthorized alien” means, with respect to the employment of an alien at a particular time, that the alien is not at that time either (A) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (B) authorized to be so employed by this Act or by the Attorney General. (emphasis added).