AUSTIN – Gov.-elect Greg Abbott made good on his promise and sued the Obama administration Wednesday, spearheading a multistate coalition seeking to unravel the president’s executive action to spare nearly 5 million undocumented people in the United States from deportation.
Sixteen other states, 14 of which are run by Republican governors, joined the lawsuit, marking the first concrete effort to challenge the president’s authority on the issue.
“We’re asking for the court to require the president to go through the prescribed constitutional process of enforcing laws passed by Congress, rather than making them up himself,” Abbott, the state’s attorney general until next month, said at an Austin news conference.
Though widely lauded in conservative circles as a test of presidential powers, the lawsuit, which also targets a list of federal agencies implementing the president’s plan, was dismissed by immigration lawyers as nothing more than a stunt to appease a base of hard-line conservatives.
“This is completely political theater,” said Robert Loughran, an Austin immigration lawyer. “The lawsuit fails both on procedural grounds and on the merits.”
David Leopold, a former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called President Barack Obama’s executive action “absolutely solid” and predicted Abbott’s lawsuit eventually will fail in court.
“It’s a frivolous complaint, not a serious lawsuit. It’ll be dismissed,” he said. “I don’t see any merits to this lawsuit at all.”
Attorney General-elect Ken Paxton, however, said he is ready to keep fighting Obama in court on this lawsuit. Paxton succeeds Abbott in January.
“President Obama far exceeded his prosecutorial discretion by declaring huge categories of illegal immigrants to be exempt from federal law,” Paxton said in a statement. “And he lacks the authority to unilaterally grant employment authorizations to more than 5 million illegal immigrants.”
Work permits for millions
The moves announced by Obama in a televised address Nov. 21 would shield from deportation and make eligible for work permits nearly 4.1 million people who are in the country illegally, but whose children are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. To be eligible, the parents must have lived in the U.S. for five years. After passing background checks and paying fees, parents would be granted relief from deportation for three years at a time. His order also expands the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to apply to minors who arrived before 2010, instead of the previous cutoff of 2007, and emphasizes deportation for recent arrivals, criminals and national security threats.
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, including some 1.3 million in Texas.
Hours before Abbott announced the lawsuit, Gov. Rick Perry took to the Capitol to roll out an immigration-based executive order of his own – directing most state agencies to start using a federal electronic system known as E-Verify to weed out undocumented workers.
Perry, who is believed to be preparing for another presidential run in 2016, also used the opportunity to blast Obama’s immigration policies.
“President Obama’s actions will create nothing but more chaos,” Perry said.
For his part, Abbott is no stranger to suing Obama, using the multitude of legal challenges he has lodged against the current administration as a central theme to his gubernatorial campaign. Wednesday’s lawsuit marks the 31st filed by Abbott’s office against the federal government since 2009.
Opening the floodgates
The latest suit hangs on the idea that a crush of unaccompanied migrant children that flooded into Texas last summer stemmed largely from a 2012 Obama executive action allowing some immigrants in the country illegally a two-year reprieve from deportation and a chance to apply for work permits.
The Deferred Action only applies to immigrants who have been in the country since 2007 and were in the country illegally on the day Obama announced the policy two years ago, but Abbott and other Texas Republicans have equated the policy to a magnet that dramatically increased unauthorized immigration into the country.
Perry on Wednesday said the 2012 Obama immigration action effectively “placed a neon sign on our border.”
“If his first policy opened up the floodgates, there’s no telling how much damage is going to be done by this executive action that he’s taken now,” he said.
Abbott said Texas was hit the hardest financially from Obama’s 2012 executive action, with taxpayers having to pony up tens of millions of dollars to pay for an increased police presence on the border, along with health care and education costs. Earlier this week, state officials approved an additional $86 million to continue funding that law enforcement surge.
“Texas will also suffer as a consequence of this most recent presidential order,” Abbott said, noting that the state is suing to recoup monetary damages.