Greg Abbott-Led Anti-Immigration Lawsuit is Nothing But a Nativist Publicity Stunt

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In last night’s State of the Union, President Obama called on Republicans to work together with him to address a number of issues, including immigration. (The Republican Congressional response didn’t bode well for the future–they only spoke about immigration in their Spanish-language response, not their English-language one.)

However, the path to working together won’t be easy, as Republican states, led by Texas and Greg Abbott, are suing the Obama administration to try to stop the implementation of President Obama’s executive action to increase protections for undocumented immigrants. Those filing suit are claiming that Obama’s actions claim that his executive action oversteps the President’s constitutional authority. The suit’s first hearing took place last week in Brownsville.

When Obama announced his plan to take executive action on the Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for DREAMers and a similar program for parents of US Citizens, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), he was prepared for a legal response from Republicans. As America’s Voice Education Fund noted in a statement (emphasis added):

    “Although every President since Eisenhower–both Republican and Democrat–has taken executive action on immigration, President Obama knew that his actions would come under intense fire from the right. Anticipating this, he took the unusual extra step of publishing the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel extensive memorandum outlining the legal underpinnings of these actions. Their conclusions were bolstered by more than 130 legal experts and scholars who have asserted that President Obama is acting well within his legal authority.”

Nonetheless, the Republican states, led by Abbott, have pushed forward their suit, which many believe is simply another right-wing, nativist, publicity stunt. This lawsuit “marks the 31st time Abbott has sued the federal government since 2009.” It is believed to have been written by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who authored Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, the “Show Me Your Papers” law. Kobach is also the one who advised Mitt Romney to run on a platform of “self-deportation.” Kobach is not named as counsel in the suit, but has made a number of thinly veiled public comments over the past few months strongly hinting that he is involved.

Abbott’s lawsuit is not even seeking monetary damages, but rather a restoration of “the rule of law.”

In yesterday’s New York Times, the editorial board called the suit, “a meritless screed wrapped in flimsy legal cloth and deposited on the doorstep of a federal district judge in Brownsville, Tex.”

The choice of Brownsville as the place to file the suit wasn’t just because it is located on the border, but because it is home to a well-known anti-immigrant federal judge who Republicans knew would look kindly on their suit. Judge Andrew Hanen, who was appointed to federal court by George W. Bush in 2002, is notorious for his decisions against immigrants. In 2013, he accused “the Obama administration of criminally conspiring with Mexican drug cartels to smuggle children over the border.” In 2014, he “handed down a strongly worded order claiming that the federal government engaged in a ‘dangerous course of action’ because it allowed an undocumented mother to be united with her child without having criminal charges brought against her.”

As ThinkProgress noted, “The Obama Administration might as well attempt to defend its policy before Judge Ted Cruz.”

It is widely expected that Judge Hanen will rule in favor of the Republican plaintiffs, creating a thorn in the President’s side as he attempts to follow through with his immigration plans. However, despite all that Republicans have done to thwart President Obama, there is good news–the effects of the suit will almost certainly be temporary, as higher courts are expected to rule in the President’s favor.

While a ruling from Judge Hanen in favor of Abbott will delay the Obama administration’s plans to start signing people up for DACA and DAPA in February, the delay won’t be permanent. The New York Times explained:

    “Sound legal scholars are not too worried that Judge Hanen alone will be able to kill the administration’s programs and force the White House to abandon other reforms of enforcement policies. Even if the judge buys the plaintiffs’ bogus line, the government still seems likely to win on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court. The states’ standing to sue is dubious; their claims of damage are speculative at best. There is no evidence that executive action will do anything to increase illegal immigration, and there is clear data showing that giving work permits to immigrants who are already here helps, not hurts, state economies.”

If the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of Abbott, it could potentially upend the immigration system as we know it and create far more trouble than it’s worth. So, despite Republican attempts to permanently block Obama, it won’t be more than a bump in the road.

The New York Times editorial board advised families seeking deportation relief to “hold firm and not let themselves be confused or bullied into not coming forward.” The success of President Obama’s executive action is dependent on their participation, no matter how much fear and confusion Republicans try to spread with their xenophobic publicity stunts.


About Author

Katie Singh

Katie grew up in Austin and has been involved in Texas politics since 2004. She has been a part of several campaigns, from state house races to working at President Obama's campaign headquarters in 2012. She loves public policy, public health, and tacos. Katie tweets from @kasingh19.

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