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Advocates blast states’ suit against Obama’s immigration plan

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WASHINGTON – Legal experts on Friday dismissed as groundless a lawsuit that 18 states, including Arizona, brought this week against President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The suit filed in federal court in Texas claims that deferred deportation of illegal immigrants and other initiatives Obama announced last month “amounted to a unilateral suspension of the nation’s immigration laws.”

But a top immigration lawyer Friday derided the suit as “a factually challenged press release,” and said the president is on solid legal ground.

“The precedent has been set, this was nothing new, and it’s statutorily based,” said David Leopold. “The president is well grounded in the Constitution and in the law.”

The lawsuit was one of several Republican actions this week aimed at derailing the president’s Nov. 20 announcement that he would no longer wait for Congress but would take immigration reform actions on his own.

They included proposals to toughen the border, streamline the work visa process and extend a deferred deportation program so that it would protect more than 4 million immigrants who are in this country illegally. That would be done in part by focusing deportation efforts on “felons” rather than “families,” the president said.

Republicans decried the move as unconstitutional presidential fiat, and on Thursday they rushed a resolution through the House blocking deferred deportation by the administration.

The 219-197 vote largely followed party lines, with all but a handful of Republicans supporting and all but a few Democrats opposing it.

Critics noted that the resolution was largely symbolic, since it is almost certain to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate and Congress is set to adjourn after next week.

One of those to buck his party was Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, who was one of three Republicans to vote “present” on the resolution. Gosar said the vote was intended to send a message that stronger action than the resolution is needed to stop what he called the president’s “executive amnesty.”

“It’s simply not enough. Instead, we need to focus on building a more effective strategy to block the president’s executive order,” Gosar said Friday in a statement emailed by his office.

He called for a short-term budget extension that would force the president to come back to Congress early next year – when both the House and Senate will be in Republican hands.

Using the budget to extract concessions from Obama is just one proposal that has been discussed by congressional opponents, who have also threatened to sue the president.

A congressional suit would be separate from the one that was filed by the states Wednesday in federal court in Brownsville, Texas. The suit originally included 17 states, but Gov. Jan Brewer announced late Thursday that she had authorized Arizona to join.

“President Obama has exceeded his power as clearly defined in the United States Constitution and federal law, and deliberately ignored the will of the American people,” Brewer said in her Thursday statement.

Her office did not return calls seeking additional comment Friday.

Leopold, a past president and general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, was joined by other immigration advocates who criticized the lawsuit during a conference call Friday.

They said that by prioritizing how he spends scarce resources, Obama is exercising the prosecutorial discretion Congress has granted to him.

“Congress has authorized the Department of Homeland Security to set enforcement priorities,” Leopold said. “Congress has allocated only enough money to remove a small fraction of the 11 million undocumented.”

Washington University School of Law Professor Stephen Legomski said Obama “didn’t change the law” with his action.

“To the contrary, he exercised a discretion that existing law explicitly recognizes that he has,” said Legomski, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Legomski also noted that the plaintiffs did not cite any specific statutes that the president has altered.

“So the president has not changed the law in any way and, really, the plaintiffs have not even tried to identify any provisions that they say the president has changed,” he said.