Blocking executive action is not law, not justice
No, Obama’s executive action on immigration hasn’t been ruled unconstitutional. The injunction issued Feb. 17 by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville, Texas (as part of a lawsuit brought by 26 states opposing the president’s action) was predicated not on constitutionality, but on the Administrative Procedure Act.
In issuing the injunction that will block an estimated 4 to 5 million undocumented immigrants from applying for work permits and a three-year reprieve from deportation, Hanen found that Texas, at least, had standing to challenge the executive action. The costs the state would incur in having to issue driver’s licenses for its estimated 825,000 undocumented immigrants who are potentially eligible for deportation relief was one of Hanen’s rationales.
The same argument cannot be made across the board, however. Fourteen other plaintiff states have populations of undocumented immigrants that constitute less than 1 percent of their total population, and five of those have less than 5,000 potentially eligible individuals.
The Department of Justice will appeal the decision, but if Hanen’s ruling were to be upheld, it would prove a pyrrhic victory, particularly for Texas. As journalist and immigration activist Jose Vargas has pointed out, undocumented workers contribute a good chunk of change to the Texas economy.
“Undocumented workers in Texas paid $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010, including $1.4 billion in sales taxes and $204.4 million in property taxes, according to data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy,” Vargas wrote in a Facebook post. “If undocumented workers left Texas, the state would lose $69.3 billion in economic activity (and) $30.8 billion in gross state product ... according to a report by the Perryman Group.”
The mayors of the 30 U.S. cities that filed an amicus brief in support of the President’s executive action say that delaying implementation will negatively impact their economies. The executive action “is fair, economically beneficial for everyone, and the right thing to do,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. Along with Soglin, and our own Mayor Michael Nutter, signatories of the amicus brief include the mayors of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Newark (New Jersey) — all of them cities with large populations of potentially eligible undocumented immigrants.
Tony Martinez, the mayor of Brownsville, Texas, where Hanen made his ruling, also filed an amicus brief in support of the executive action, saying “that the government’s use of deferred action is constitutional because the Constitution and Congress have vested in the executive branch broad discretion over the enforcement of U.S. immigration law and that the executive branch has a well-recognized discretionary authority to prioritize enforcement resources, including through grants of deferred action ... Not only are we on sound legal basis but, just as important, this is the right thing to do.”
In Philadelphia, Natasha Kelemen of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, echoed that. “Hundreds of legal scholars agree that the President’s executive action on immigration is constitutional and within his authority. We are confident that the court system will reject this meritless lawsuit that only wastes taxpayer dollars.”
The Philly Latino community organization, Juntos, also issued a statement saying the leadership and members were unsurprised by the decision. “We know that this lawsuit is nothing but a political stunt that represents out of touch anti-immigrant elected officials across this country. This is about politics: not law, not justice.”
The 26 states that are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are either led by Republican governors or have Republican attorneys general. Coupled with the Republicans’ inability to move forward with any measure of immigration reform that isn’t exclusively punitive or downright draconian, this lawsuit and its ruling have cemented a sense that the party is uninterested in reaching the Latino voter or, in fact, representing the Latino constituent.
While Republican-appointed judges and Republican AGs and governors play with, and rule on, notions of “irreparable harm” in the abstract, the irreparable harm they’ll have inflicted on themselves is actual, political and absolutely certain to be felt in who Latinos vote for in 2016.