WASHINGTON -- The state of Mississippi joined a lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration over its decision to stop deporting some undocumented young people, claiming the move is unconstitutional and prevents immigration agents from doing their jobs.
"States must protect their borders while the federal government continues to ignore this growing problem," Gov. Phil Bryant, who joined the lawsuit on behalf of the state, said in a statement. "I believe this action by the Obama administration is unconstitutional and circumvents Congress’s authority. The fact remains that illegal immigration is a real issue with real consequences, and ignoring the rule of law is irresponsible. As governor, I cannot turn a blind eye to the problem of illegal immigration and its costs to Mississippi."
Mississippi is the first state to join the suit, which was filed Aug. 23 by a group of 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers represented by Texas attorney Michael Jung and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the author of Arizona's S.B. 1070 immigration measure. NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reducing immigration, is funding the lawsuit.
President Barack Obama announced a policy in June to grant deferred action -- two years reprieve from deportation concerns -- and work authorization to young undocumented immigrants, should they meet certain requirements. Those eligible for the reprieve roughly align with the would-be beneficiaries of the Dream Act, a decade-old bill that would give legal status to undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children.
The lawsuit also challenges an announcement in 2011 that the administration would encourage officers to consider certain factors, such as citizen family members and longstanding ties to the country, when choosing whether to push forward with deportation. The government's argument is that it leaves more time to focus on high-priority deportations -- repeat offenders, gang members and dangerous criminals -- but ICE agents in the suit argue it amounts to disallowing them from performing their duties.
"The Directive commands ICE officers to violate federal law [and] commands ICE officers to violate their oaths to uphold and support federal law," the lawsuit reads.
Mississippi joined the suit because of alleged costs to taxpayers caused by failing to enforce immigration laws, according to a statement from the governor's office. Bryant worked on a report as a state auditor in 2006 that estimated the net cost of undocumented immigration on Mississippi to be more than $25 million per year.
Kobach said he has been in contact with the state of Mississippi over the lawsuit since around the time it was filed, and that there are no plans at the moment for other states to join the suit. Still, he said the fiscal impact of undocumented immigration is an issue across the country.
"Mississippi is in a sense standing in the shoes of all 50 states because its injuries are similarly felt by other states as well," Kobach said. "In a way, Mississippi speaks for itself, but stands for all 50 states."
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton are all named as defendants in the suit.
The Obama administration deported a record number of immigrants in the 2011 fiscal year -- numbers for 2012 are not yet available. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, opposed the deferred action decision, saying last week he would end the policy if president, but honor deferred action already granted by the president.
Kobach has declined to comment on whether he agrees that deferred action waivers already granted should remain valid. Because of lawsuits like this one, though, he said it might not be an issue.
"I anticipate and hope that by the time the Romney administration is sworn in in January, the court will have already ruled that the Napolitano directive violates federal law, and the issue will be moot by then," he said.
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>