Democrats File Court Brief Backing Obama Immigration Orders

A group of 181 Democratic members of the House weighed in on the legal fight over immigration on Monday, telling an appeals court that the executive branch has the authority to make the policy changes that President Barack Obama announced in November.

In an amicus brief, the lawmakers said the enforcement of immigration laws and the deferral of certain deportations are squarely within the discretion of the president — a central part of the legal dispute now at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The brief adds that the White House is often better positioned than Congress to determine how to adjust to laws like immigration.

“As representatives of diverse communities across the United States, amici have witnessed how an approach to enforcement of the immigration laws that does not focus on appropriate priorities, such as felons or national security threats, undermines confidence in the nation’s immigration laws, wastes resources, and needlessly divides families,” the lawmakers’ brief states.

“Amici regard the actions of the executive branch challenged in this suit as appropriate measures to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security’s limited enforcement resources are directed toward the removal of persons who pose actual threats to public safety,” the brief states.

Democratic lawmakers signing the brief include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California, Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York, Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee ranking Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California.

The 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments in New Orleans this month on whether to continue to block the Obama administration from implementing immigration policies announced in November that would allow prosecutorial discretion to defer the removal of millions of illegal immigrants.

Republican House members have said that Obama’s actions go beyond non-enforcement of deportation laws and grant affirmative benefits to illegal immigrants.

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas issued the injunction in February, siding with 26 states that challenged Obama’s executive orders. Those orders would grant deferred deportation for the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents and expand on the deferred deportation program that the Obama administration created in 2012 for immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Also Monday, a group of former members of Congress filed an amicus brief in support of the Obama administration’s actions.

In the brief, the former lawmakers said the president’s discretion is important “because, as they well know, the exercise of that discretion is often critical to the effective enforcement of the nation’s laws.”

The former members include Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who was chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and James Leach, a centrist Republican from Iowa who led the Committee on Financial Services.

The other former members are former House members Michael Barnes of Maryland, Howard Berman, Victor Fazio and George Miller III of California, Charles Gonzalez and Silvestre Reyes of Texas and David Skaggs of Colorado.

The past Congresses “have, over time, created a complicated statutory scheme that confers significant discretion on the President to determine how that scheme should be enforced in light of humanitarian concerns, foreign affairs, and available enforcement resources,” the brief states.