Joining a growing chorus of complaints about President Obama's new policy giving some illegal immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation, Gov. Rick Perry has advised state agencies that the federal move will not change Texas' policies against providing services for those who remain in the country.
In a letter distributed to state agencies on Monday, Perry calls the president's plan "a slap in the face to the rule of law and our Constitutional framework of separated powers."
"To avoid any confusion on the impact of the Obama administration's actions, I am writing to ensure that all Texas agencies understand that (Homeland Security) Secretary (Janet) Napolitano's guidelines confer absolutely no legal status whatsoever to any alien who qualifies for the federal 'deferred action' designation," Perry said.
"In fact, the secretary specifically closed her directive by explaining that [t]his memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship."
He continued: "The secretary's directive does not undermine or change our state laws, or any federal laws that apply within the State of Texas."
Perry's advice comes after Napolitano issued guidelines under which deportation of illegal immigrants can be delayed up to two years, a move that could affect as many as 1.7 million people nationwide.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, issued an executive order last week denying benefits and driver's licenses to illegal immigrants who apply for the deferred action. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Saturday that those people covered by the federal "deferred action" remain ineligible for state benefits like driver's licenses and other services, as well.
In Texas, applicants for new driver's licenses or state IDs must prove legal residency, and some applicants for renewals are also required to show legal status or citizenship. Officials said that policy will not change.
In his letter, Perry noted that the new federal policy does "not change our obligations under federal and Texas law to determine a person's eligibility for state and local public benefit. Federal law prohibits conferring such benefits to most unlawfully present aliens, absent a state law to the contrary."
President Obama's new policy unveiled two months ago affects thousands of immigrants who are younger than 31 and who have graduated or are currently enrolled in school, have earned a GED or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces.
They must have lived in the country consistently since June 15, 2007, and cannot have been convicted of a serious misdemeanor, three misdemeanors or a felony, federal officials said.
Austinites eligible to apply for the federal deferral program said it was not unexpected. Most said the only benefit they had contemplated applying for was a driver license, which they cannot now get.
"Perry is a Republican and this is an Obama administration policy. Anything he says the Republicans probably won't like," said Daniel Olvera, 23, immediate past president of the University Leadership Initiative at the University of Texas. The group has been advocating for a change in federal deportation law.
Olvera, who came to the United States from Mexico in 2001, recently graduated from the University of Texas.
Others suggested the opposition of Perry and other state governors could move the political fight over "deferred action" to an expected push in Texas and other states to bolster immigration laws on their own -- actions that have drawn federal rebuke in the past.
Federal officials insist immigration is solely a federal responsibility. Officials in Texas, Arizona and other states have countered that the federal government is not enforcing its laws.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June invalidated major provisions of a controversial Arizona immigration law but left intact one provision that requires police to verify the legal status of anyone they stop or arrest.
"Gov. Rick Perry's letter is just another part of the political fight that's going on to deny any benefits to immigrants who are in the country illegally-- no matter what the circumstances," said Marion Chapala, an undocumented Mexican citizen who has lived and worked in Austin since 1998.
"People like me are just caught in the middle. I really didn't expect getting any state services because of Obama's new policy, so I'm not surprised."
(c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas