Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republican state leaders on Wednesday called a judge's ruling against the president's executive action on immigration a "victory for the rule of law" and the Constitution, and demanded the administration halt all preparations to implement the programs that would defer the deportation of millions of people living in the country illegally.
"I am confident that as this case works its way up through the appellate process, we will continue to win. The Constitution does not give the president the power to change the law," Abbott said during a briefing at the capital in front of a U.S. map labeled "States united in defense of the rule of law."
Texas and 25 other states marked in blue on the map have sued to stop Obama's executive action programs, which would defer deportation for as many as 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in the border Texas city of Brownsville issued a federal court injunction temporarily halting the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program and an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a decision Abbott called "a victory for the rule of law."
"Texas led the way, standing up to President Obama's illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty," said Cruz, noting that administration officials have said they are still preparing to implement the programs. He warned the administration that the court's order "was abundantly clear" and "enjoined 'any and all aspects'" of the programs, which it "declared illegal."
"If the Department of Homeland Security continues moving forward, that on its face is in violation of a fed court injunction," Cruz said.
He noted that Republicans gained control of Congress through campaign promises to overturn the executive action.
"Republicans all over the country said if you give us a majority, we will stop this illegal amnesty," Cruz said.
Cruz and Abbott were joined at the briefing by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton. They repeatedly referred to the programs as "amnesty," but administration officials have said the programs do not provide a path toward citizenship.
The Obama administration is determining what to do next, the White House said Wednesday.
The immediate question officials face is whether to ask a federal appeals court to lift the judge's injunction. The Justice Department is expected to decide in the next few days, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, and will continue to fight the lawsuit.
"We're confident that there is a solid precedent here. There's a solid legal foundation for the actions that the president announced," Earnest said.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from San Antonio, agreed. Referring to Hanen's ruling, he said, "Calling this court decision a victory is assuring that our state is on the wrong side of history."
Immigration policy is particularly charged in Texas, which is still coping with an influx of more than 68,000 unaccompanied children who crossed into the Rio Grande Valley illegally last year. Mostly from Central America, they were placed at massive detention centers here or with relatives and sponsors until their immigration cases were resolved.
Abbott, then Texas attorney general, and other state leaders initially responded by demanding millions of dollars in added federal funding for border security. When they didn't get it, officials sent state patrols and National Guard troops down to the border. Some remained there this week.
Obama called the surge of immigrant children and families into Texas an "urgent humanitarian situation," and the administration initially expanded detention facilities and some legal resources for immigrants.
When Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Obama took executive action in November, creating DAPA and expanding DACA.
Immigrants who arrived this summer would not be eligible for either program, but the programs were expected to lighten the burden on immigration courts overwhelmed by last year's influx.
DAPA would include more than 4 million immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
DACA, created in 2012, includes 1.2 million young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children and here for at least five years; the expansion would add 300,000.
Applications for the expansion were expected to start Wednesday but were suspended by the Department of Homeland Security pending resolution of the lawsuit. DAPA applications were not due to start until May.
"Had this amnesty been allowed to go into force by executive action, which we believe was illegal, I think we would have seen a new wave of thousands coming here hoping to achieve amnesty," Patrick said. "We are going to continue to be vigilant. We are going to continue to maintain law enforcement on our border. National security starts with border security and border security begins in Texas."
He added, "The fact that this has been halted will send a message, I hope, to those who would come here illegally."
But Texas Democrats emphasized that the judge based his finding on a technicality — that the administration didn't follow procedure in announcing the executive actions. They insisted the programs pose no threat to border security and ultimately will be upheld in court.
Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party and a former state judge, said Republicans are "listening to their right wing base that's just saying everyone needs to be deported."
"That's not a solution to this problem," he said.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat and attorney who represents the Rio Grande Valley, said, "This summer it was not DACA that got people to come into the United States – it was a combination of violence in those countries, that we were not detaining folks and misinformation."
Cuellar, who proposed bipartisan immigration legislation with Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn after last summer's crisis, said he would prefer for Congress to craft immigration policy, but, "Politics is so tough. Sen. Cornyn and I tried."
"This was a victory for a technicality," he said, and eventually "the administration is going to prevail on this."