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Lawsuits on Obama's immigration directives won't move us closer to reform

Chest-thumping on the courtroom steps does not move us closer to what we need on immigration

One thing we've learned about President Obama's opponents over the last six years is that they like to sue. A lot. Which should be surprising, given the professed reluctance of conservatives to use the courts to effect political change. While calculated grandstanding has a long history in politics, a spate of legal challenges by state-level elected officials is a wasteful annoyance for voters who would prefer their representatives to focus on legislating and governing.

Among the most recent targets: the president's executive directives on immigration and his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Both aim to provide breathing room to some immigrants living in the country illegally, including those who were brought here as children and others who are parents of U.S. citizens or who have legal permanent resident status. Neither policy confers legal status on people who don't currently have it or creates new law; rather, they are efforts to focus limited immigration enforcement resources on those who pose a threat to public safety. These are humane steps to take until the immigration system can be reformed.

Nevertheless, the lawsuits keep coming. Last month, a U.S. District Court dismissed Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio's constitutional challenge to Obama's actions in part because “the role of the judiciary is to resolve cases and controversies properly brought by parties with a concrete and particularized injury — not to engage in policymaking better left to the political branches.” That was the right decision. The issues are political, not constitutional.

A lawsuit filed by governors and attorneys general in 24 Republican-led states ought to meet the same fate. The states accuse Obama of overstepping the limits of his office by, among other things, promulgating new rules without proper public notification and review (the directives, though, are not rules, but orders on how to enforce existing ones). Yet the crux of the legal complaint is a political argument: The plaintiffs blame Obama administration policies for the surge of children across the Mexican border last summer, and they base their analysis of the executive directives on Obama's public rhetoric (which has been self-contradictory).

So the states face the same hurdle Arpaio did: Their arguments come down to policy decisions and enforcement priorities and do not constitute a well-grounded legal challenge to Obama's authority. They accuse him of violating his constitutional responsibility to “take care that the laws are faithfully executed.” But prioritizing enforcement targets does not abrogate that responsibility.

Polls routinely show high support among voters for immigration reform, though there is disagreement over exactly what form it should take. Chest-thumping on the courtroom steps does not move us closer to what we need. If the Republican state officials really want a fix, they should pressure their congressional delegations to negotiate meaningful reform in Washington.

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