Texas and six other states are suing the Trump administration over its failure to terminate an Obama-era program that provides work permits to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
The lawsuit signals growing GOP frustration with President Trump’s struggles to advance his immigration policies and could lead to conflicting federal court decisions that would put the fates of 690,000 immigrants known as “dreamers” in the hands of a deeply divided Supreme Court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brownsville on Tuesday. It asks the court to rule on whether President Obama’s 2012 decision to grant deportation protections and two-year work authorizations to young undocumented immigrants — without congressional approval — was lawful.
Texas and other states had threatened legal action last year, which prompted the Trump administration to announce in September that it would gradually end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program starting March 5.
Defenders of the program challenged that decision in court, and federal judges in California, New York and most recently, the District have temporarily blocked the Trump administration from carrying out its plans.
The California and New York rulings forced the Trump administration to continue renewing work permits for immigrants currently enrolled in the program. Last week, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, ordered the federal government to begin accepting new applications by late July, which would fully restore the program. Bates stayed the decision for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security a chance to provide more solid reasoning for ending the program.
Joining Texas in the DACA lawsuit are the Republican attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia.
“Our lawsuit is about the rule of law, not the wisdom of any particular immigration policy,” Paxton said in a statement. “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.”
The Justice Department and DHS declined to comment.
The suit asks the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to “declare DACA unlawful” and block the federal government from issuing any more work permits.
Paxton said the lawsuit does not ask the Trump administration to deport immigrants or rescind existing permits.
While the complaint says the court has the authority to immediately rescind and cancel work permits, Paxton said “Plaintiffs are amenable to a remedy that enjoins Defendants from issuing or renewing DACA permits in the future, effectively phasing out the program within two years” — as the Trump administration had planned.
Texas filed the lawsuit in the same federal courthouse that upended Obama’s 2014 attempt to expand DACA to millions of immigrants brought to the United States as children who did not qualify for the 2012 program because of their age or other factors, and to the parents of U.S. citizens and green-card holders.
Joseph Sellers, counsel for the NAACP and other plaintiffs in the D.C. DACA lawsuit, said the Texas lawsuit is a “troubling” development that could force a showdown in the Supreme Court.
After a California federal judge halted Trump’s plans to phase out DACA, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to hear the case before an appeals court ruled on the matter. The high court declined.
Sellers said a multistate conflict might persuade the court to take up the matter more quickly. “It’s very hard to administer immigration policy as a patchwork,” he said. “You have to have the same immigration policy in Texas as you do in New Jersey.”
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.