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California leaders tell Supreme Court that undocumented workers are making the state stronger

A cross section of California leaders in business, education, law enforcement and religion joined Tuesday in urging the Supreme Court to uphold President Obama's plan to offer temporary relief and work permits to as many as 5 million immigrants who have been living in the U.S. illegally.

They drew a sharp contrast with Texas, which has complained of the burden imposed by immigrants and led the legal fight to block Obama's executive action.

The California leaders told the court the undocumented immigrants who are working and raising families are making the state stronger, better and more prosperous. About one-fourth of the nation's undocumented immigrants live in California, they said.

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"Representing just 7% of the state's population, [they] make up 34% of its farm workers, 22% of its production workers and 21% of its construction workers according to one estimate," they said in a friend-of-the court brief.

Some estimates say as many as 60% of California's farmworkers are undocumented, they added. "Today, the undocumented workforce alone contributes $130 billion to California's gross domestic product (GDP) — an amount larger than the entire respective GDPs of 19 other states."

Immigrants also have helped maintain Los Angeles as "the largest manufacturing center in the United States, far outpacing other manufacturing centers like Chicago, Detroit or Philadelphia."

"It's easy to get caught up in the white-hot political debate over this issue," said Jot Condie, chief executive of the California Restaurant Assn. "But for us, this simply comes down to people — our fellow churchgoers, classmates, neighbors and hard-working individuals. Millions of loving families hang in the balance. Kicking the can on immigration reform can no longer be an option."

Obama's stalled program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, would offer relief from the threat of deportation and a work permit to about 1.1 million Californians who are parents of legal children. The brief cites a UCLA study that estimates this program, if put into effect, "would generate 130,000 new jobs in California alone, increase the collective wages of undocumented immigrants in California by more than $5.5 billion annually and support public programs with $3.8 billion in new business, personal and sales tax receipts annually."

The Supreme Court, with only eight justices, will hear arguments April 18 in the immigration case now called United States vs. Texas.

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It began when Texas and more than two dozen other Republican-led states filed suit in Brownsville, Texas, contending Obama did not have the legal authority to defer deportation to a large group of immigrants. The judge agreed Obama's plan appeared to be illegal, and he issued an order that prevents it from taking effect. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judge's order by a 2-1 vote.

Obama's lawyers appealed, arguing first that Texas does not have standing to sue. The president's order does not regulate the state, they say. Moreover, immigration enforcement is a matter for the federal government. They also argue that the U.S. immigration laws give the executive branch broad leeway in deciding whom to deport.

Texas lawyers responded by arguing the president had violated this constitutional duty to "faithfully" execute the laws. On Jan. 19, the court agreed to consider that issue, potentially turning the case into a landmark test of presidential power.

But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13 all but ended that prospect. Without Scalia, the court's conservatives will not have a majority to write an opinion that broadly rejects Obama's executive action.

However, Obama's lawyers cannot win without at least one of the justices who leans to the right, either Chief Justice John G. Roberts or Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Both joined in a 2012 opinion that rejected key parts of an Arizona immigration law that authorized local police to stop people and check their citizenship.

If the justices were to split evenly, the tie vote would affirm the 5th Circuit's decision preventing Obama's order from taking effect.

California Attorney Gen. Kamala Harris filed a separate friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday in support of the administration that was joined by her counterparts in 15 Democratic-leaning states. She called Obama's order as a "common sense action on immigration, which will allow millions of hard-working immigrants to come out of the shadows, contribute to the prosperity of this nation and build the American dream."

On Twitter: @DavidGSavage

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