By James Barragán
Leading a seven-state coalition, Texas will sue the federal government to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects unauthorized immigrants who came to the country as children, Attorney General Ken Paxton's office announced Tuesday.
"Our lawsuit is about the rule of law, not the wisdom of any particular immigration policy," Paxton said in a news release. "Texas has argued for years that the federal executive branch lacks the power to unilaterally grant unlawfully present aliens lawful presence and work authorization.
"Left intact, DACA sets a dangerous precedent by giving the executive branch sweeping authority to ignore the laws enacted by Congress and change our nation's immigration laws to suit a president's own policy preferences."
In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the states urge the court to declare the program unlawful and stop the federal government from issuing or renewing DACA permits.
Immigrants' rights advocates were swift to denounce the lawsuit.
"Texas Dreamers contribute billions of tax dollars to our economy and make our communities stronger by serving as police officers, firefighters, and school teachers," said Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
"It is not only bad policy, it's bad politics as strong majorities of Americans support DACA. Instead of wasting taxpayer funds to pick on these Americans without status, the Attorney General should join the bipartisan chorus calling on Congress to fix a broken immigration system that denies these kids their rightful place at the American table."
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is in a runoff for Texas governor, tweeted Tuesday that the lawsuit is "inhumane, hurts our communities, hurts our economy, and makes us less safe. Texas deserves better."
The lawsuit again places Texas at the center of the debate over illegal immigration, which has divided the country for decades and has garnered more attention under President Donald Trump, who vowed to crack down but said he would treat with compassion young unauthorized immigrants who entered the country as children.
In September, the Trump administration said it would phase out the deportation relief program by March 5 after Paxton threatened to sue the federal government. It also put pressure on Congress to overhaul the country's immigration system, but a solution remains elusive with politicians refusing to compromise during a combative election year.
Legal battles have also questioned the power of the Trump administration and the reasoning behind its decision to end the program. Most recently, a district court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Trump administration had 90 days to fully restore it.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday does not ask the federal government to remove immigrants who have benefited from the program or rescind permits already issued, Paxton's office said.
It also does not ask the court to resolve any of the questions pending in the challenges to the Trump administration's decision to terminate the program. It challenges whether it was legal for President Barack Obama to create the program in 2012.
As of January 2018, there were 682,750 DACA recipients in the country, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. Texas was home to more than 111,000, the second-largest population behind California.
The lawsuit alleges that during the creation of the original DACA program, the Obama administration said it would not create a pathway to citizenship. But as of August 2017, more than 39,000 DACA recipients had used the program's protections to obtain lawful permanent residency and 1,056 others had used it to obtain citizenship.
"If ever there were a violation of the President's duty to 'take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,' this is it," the lawsuit reads. "The Executive unilaterally conferred lawful presence and work authorization on otherwise unlawfully present aliens, and then the Executive used that lawful-presence "dispensation" to unilaterally confer United States citizenship"
Texas is joined in the suit by the attorney generals of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia.
A similar lawsuit against the expansion of the program, called Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens and Lawful Permanent residents (DAPA), which would have given deportation relief to parents of U.S. citizens who had been in the country since 2010, went all the way to the Supreme Court, where an eight-justice bench deadlocked on its legality in 2016, leaving in place lower court rulings to block the program. Once in office, Trump rescinded DAPA.
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