South Carolina joined 16 other states in a suit against the Obama administration for what they consider an illegal overreach of executive privilege in the president’s executive order on immigration, Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Wednesday.
A divided Congress isn’t likely to act on the president’s immigration order right now, but that didn’t stop the states. Led by Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, the states filed a formal legal challenge Wednesday in federal court in Texas.
Under Obama’s executive order, announced Nov. 20, protection from deportation and the right to work will be extended to an estimated 4.1 million parents of American citizens and legal permanent residents who have lived in the country for at least five years, as well as to hundreds of thousands more young people.
The suit against the Obama administration, as it reads, is not about immigration but “the rule of law, presidential power, and the structural limits of the U.S. Constitution.”
“Immigration reform is long overdue,” Wilson said in a statement Wednesday. “However, immigration reform must come through responsible measures passed by the people’s representatives, not unlawful strokes of President Obama’s pen which ignored the Constitution.”
Haley echoed Wilson and the argument of the attorneys general who co-signed the lawsuit by insisting the president acted outside his legal bounds.
“As the chief executive of this state, I can’t take action to change the law without the Legislature,” Haley said during a 4 p.m. news conference. “There’s checks and balances for a reason. You can’t just violate rules and tell your cabinet to violate rules and think that people are going to be OK with it.”
Furthermore, Haley said that Obama’s order sets a dangerous precedent and sends a negative message to the rest of the world.
“When they see that we’re now a country that doesn’t follow the law, we can expect more illegal immigrants to come into South Carolina,” Haley said.
She said the president’s actions will have a direct effect on South Carolina by costing the state money to pay for health care and education for current and future undocumented immigrants. She said the state cannot calculate how much it spends on illegal immigrants because it cannot count how many are here.
The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, but asks the courts to block Obama’s actions.
S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he listened curiously to the governor and attorney general’s announcement and “noticed that, as usual, they have no solution” to the immigration issue.
“And rather than working with the president to accomplish a solution, they are suing him,” Rutherford said. “We are no better off for it, and we are no closer to a solution that they will say is going to work because they will not propose one.”
Other plaintiffs in the suit are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The White House says the president has acted within his legal authority. Obama, Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson and a team of advisers worked together for months to conclude that the president had the authority to enact a new immigration policy.
The complaint cites several quotes by the president over the past four years in which he insisted he could not achieve immigration reform goals on his own, including saying in May 2010, “Anybody who tells you ... that I can wave a magic wand and make it happen hasn’t been paying attention to how this town works.”
Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan, have issued past executive orders pertaining to immigration. Abbott said those presidents were acting in response to actions by Congress – unlike Obama, whom Abbott said acted in lieu of congressional approval.
The Associated Press and The New York Times contributed. Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.