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A federal court has determined President Obama's executive order protecting 4.3 million undocumented immigrants from deportation to be unconstitutional. But it doesn't mean that the order is invalidated.

It doesn't mean that the order deferring deportation for these people is invalidated. Western Pennsylvania district court Judge Arthur Schwab tucked this opinion in the drunk-driving case of Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, an undocumented immigrant who was pulled over for drunk driving earlier this year. In litigating the Juarez-Escobar case, the court requested information from the federal government over whether Obama's executive action applied. Under federal guidelines, an undocumented immigrant is eligible for deferred action on deportation if he or she meets the following criteria:

1. Is not a threat to national security or public safety.

2. Entered the United States before 2010.

3. Was within the U.S. when the deferred-action program was announced.

4. Has a child who is a U.S. citizen.

5. Is otherwise unqualified for deferred action.

    Juarez-Escobar ticked off several of these. But in Schwab's opinion, the first priority is to "determine whether the Executive Action is constitutional." And he determined that it wasn't. "The Court holds that the Executive Action is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers and the Take Care Clause of the Constitution," he wrote.

    The judge contends Obama is overstepping his authority because he's bypassing Congress's authority to make laws, but also because the action clamps down on prosecutorial discretion—taking power away from the courts to detain or deport undocumented immigrants.

    This federal court in Western Pennsylvania doesn't have the power to stop Obama's plan, but Schwab's language may be echoed in future cases. This is the first federal court ruling on the executive action, but it likely won't be the last. There are currently 24 states suing the president over his executive action.

    This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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