By Mike Lillis - 05/11/15 05:23 PM EDT
Top Republicans in Congress on Monday entered the court battle over President Obama's latest moves to ease deportations for immigrants living in the country illegally.
Texas and 25 other states have challenged the legality of the unilateral actions, arguing that the president overstepped his executive power with programs halting deportations and granting work permits to certain groups of illegal immigrants.
"Congress has created a comprehensive immigration scheme — which expresses its desired policy as to classes of immigrants — but the class identified by the [Homeland Security Department] directive for categorical relief is unsupported by this scheme," the lawmakers wrote in an amicus brief filed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
"Instead of setting enforcement priorities," they added, "it created a class-based program that establishes eligibility requirements that, if met, grant unlawful immigrants a renewable lawful presence in the United States and substantive benefits."
The brief was endorsed by 113 Republicans, including Sens. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn: White House 'MIA' during 9/11 debate Senate overrides Obama 9/11 veto in overwhelming vote Cornyn ramps up support for 9/11 bill before veto override vote MORE (Texas), the majority whip, and Ted CruzTed CruzCould Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Senate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown Bad science is everywhere and people are buying it MORE (Texas), a 2016 presidential hopeful. In the House, the supporters include Reps. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyClinton IT aide pleads Fifth, skips hearing House Oversight subpoenas FBI for Clinton investigation documents Clinton emails wiped clean after NYT story MORE (S.C.); Tom Price (Ga.); Michael McCaul (Texas), head of the Homeland Security Committee; and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the former head of the Judiciary panel.
"[T]he President has unlawfully granted amnesty to millions who came here illegally," Cruz said Monday in a statement.
The White House was quick to fire back, noting that hundreds of voices — ranging from states to Democratic lawmakers to businesses groups — have filed their own legal briefs supporting the executive actions.
"Though these individuals and groups come from different backgrounds and perspectives, they’re all in agreement that [the] President’s actions are good for public safety and good for the economy," an administration official said in an email.
The court fight centers on a pair of executive actions taken by Obama shortly after November's midterm elections.
One, known as the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, would halt deportations and offer work permits to the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. The other would expand Obama's 2012 program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, to a greater number of immigrants brought to the country illegally as kids.
All told, the programs could defer deportation for more than 4 million illegal immigrants.
The states sued the administration over the programs, arguing they mark a case of executive overreach that would saddle them with exorbitant new costs.
In February, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, of Brownsville, Texas, found that the states had a legitimate basis to bring their case. He also blocked the programs temporarily for what he deemed a violation of the federal law allowing public comment when new rules are established.
Hanen has yet to weigh the merits of the challenge, but his initial decision prevents the administration from moving forward with the programs, including the processing of applications.
Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats have hammered that decision, saying the executive actions are well within the president's powers and will eventually be authorized by the courts.
The administration has appealed Hanen's temporary injunction, arguing the case before the 5th Circuit last month. The court has yet to rule on the challenge.
The Republicans' amicus brief argues that the injunction should remain in place while the courts weigh the underlying case.
"President Obama’s decision to ignore the limits placed on his power and act unilaterally to rewrite our nation’s immigration laws are an affront to the Constitution," Goodlatte said Monday in a statement.
"Such lawlessness must be stopped so that we preserve the separation of powers in the Constitution and protect individual liberty."
—Jordan Fabian contributed.
This story was updated at 6:13 p.m.