Seventeen states filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging President Obama’s decision to temporarily defer deportation for millions of immigrants who qualify for DACA of the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. The lawsuit argues that the president’s executive actions “violated his constitutional duty to enforce the laws and illegally placed new burdens on state budgets,” according to The New York Times. The coalition of states behind the lawsuit include Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is leading the coalition, said President Obama was “abdicating his responsibility to faithfully enforce the laws that were duly enacted by Congress and attempting to rewrite immigration laws, which he has no authority to do.” If this sounds familiar, it is because these arguments were essentially the same made by conservative members of Congress in Tuesday’s hearings about the president’s executive action. And like those arguments, the lawsuit appears designed to be more about political grandstanding than genuine concern for the state of the Constitution.
The complaint alleges that President Obama’s decision to grant deferred action will trigger a new wave of undocumented immigration, increase human trafficking, and force states to expend substantial resources on law enforcement, health care, and education. It claims the president violated his constitutional duty to ensure “laws be faithfully executed” by changing the law, and violated the Administrative Procedure Act by exceeding his authority and rewriting immigration laws to contradict priorities Congress adopted.
In fact, President Obama used his executive authority to provide temporary fixes for certain individuals pending a long-overdue legislative overhaul of our broken immigration system. The legal authority for his actions is well-established, and his actions follow the decisions of many other presidents to use their discretion to temporarily address immigration problems
Ironically, the complaint concludes by stating: “If the Plaintiff States had the sovereign power to redress these problems, they would. But the Supreme Court has held that authority over immigration is largely lodged in the federal government. […] Accordingly, litigation against the federal government is the only way for the States to vindicate their interests and those of their citizens.” In support of this proposition, however, the complaint cites the Supreme Court’s SB 1070 Arizona v. United States, which provides a ringing endorsement of the executive branch’s broad discretionary authority in the realm of immigration enforcement. In other words, it says that the executive branch has the authority to do exactly what the states are complaining about.
The states’ lawsuit is wasting time attacking actions that reflect a valid exercise of President Obama’s executive authority and help to better prioritize scarce immigration enforcement resources to target noncitizens who pose a real threat to our country. Instead of suing over them, these states should follow the lead of other states and cities that are making their communities more welcoming to immigrants.