SAN JUAN, RGV – El Paso has taken the lead among Texas border communities when it comes to throwing its support behind President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

On Monday, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar announced her county was joining Cities United for Immigration Action. The group comprises 73 cities and counties that have each filed a new friend-of-the-court brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the Texas vs. United States lawsuit.

The lawsuit was brought by numerous states, led by Texas, that are trying to block implementation of Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar
El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar

The new brief argues that a District Court judge’s decision to block executive action with a preliminary injunction is “bad for the economy, hurts families, threatens law enforcement priorities, and will stall desperately needed changes to the federal government’s immigration policies.”

In a news release, Escobar said the brief demonstrates “robust support” from the country’s largest cities – as well as its suburbs and rural areas – for the President’s reforms. She said these reforms will provide temporary relief from deportation to millions of immigrants with longstanding ties to the U.S. who pass a background check and meet other criteria.

“El Paso County is proud to weigh in on the amicus brief and stands in support of President Obama’s executive action on immigration. We believe the injunction blocking the executive action causes harm to communities like El Paso, where we have large immigrant communities and tens of thousands of families that would benefit from the rollout of DACA/DAPA,” Escobar said.

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DAPA stands for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

“Our goal, like the President’s, is to ensure we have safe communities, economic opportunity and strong families. We believe the injunction is a temporary setback and look forward to a favorable decision by the appellate court,” Escobar said.

In total, Cities United for Immigration Action represents 43 million people across the country. Escobar said the cities and counties are making the case that the federal district court judge who temporarily blocked implementation of the Obama Administration’s programs “failed to consider the significant harms to America’s local governments caused by this delay.” The judge was Andrew Hanen of Brownsville. Escobar added that the brief more than doubles the number of local governments that had previously voiced opposition to the lawsuit brought by states seeking to block President Obama’s immigration reform efforts.

News that El Paso County has joined Cities United for Immigration Action and filed an amicus brief in the Texas vs. United States lawsuit brought an immediate response from La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a non-profit community group in the Rio Grande Valley. If El Paso can mobilize in this way, why cannot Valley counties and cities, LUPE leaders want to know.

“Valley cities will benefit from immigration action. Some cities have already recognized that and passed resolutions in support of administrative relief when we asked them to,” said LUPE Organizing Coordinator Martha Sanchez.

“We would love to see our cities and counties fight to protect the benefits that the RGV will receive from the President’s immigration action by joining the amicus brief in the appeals process.”

Sanchez pointed out that the cities of Edinburg and Alton have passed resolutions in support of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. She said LUPE is asking the City of San Juan to do the same. LUPE is headquartered in San Juan. The group dedicated its recent César Chávez march and rally to immigration reform. More than 900 South Texas residents attended.

In January, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, filed a friend of the court amicus brief in support of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, an attorney, filed Vela’s paperwork in the case. “Not only are we on sound legal basis but, just as important, this is the right thing to do,” Martinez said, referring to the friend of the court brief.

Martinez argued that Obama’s actions would “strengthen” the nation. “This idea was well understood by our founding fathers,” Martinez argued. “For example George Washington wrote in a 1783 letter to his soldiers, ‘The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…’”

Congressman Vela said more than four million people, who work, live and call the United States home – stand to benefit from Obama’s executive actions. “These actions allow these undocumented immigrants to obtain a work permit for three years, among other initiatives,” Vela said, adding that during the last congressional session, every single attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform failed.

Martha Sánchez, organizing coordinator for La Unión del Pueblo Entero.
Martha Sánchez, organizing coordinator for La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

“The President exercised his executive prerogative within the confines of the Constitution so that something could finally get done. Moreover, these actions provide a process by which millions of people working in our hotels, restaurants and constructions sites can continue to legally contribute to our economy without the senseless conditions of border security provisions which some would impose on the legalization process,” Vela said.

Efrén C. Olivares, of the South Texas Civil Rights Project, agrees with Vela’s analysis of Obama’s executive action on immigration.

“The president’s executive action does not change any law, does not grant permanent legal status to anyone and does not implicate any constitutional controversy. It is simply an exercise of prosecutorial discretion in the enforcement of our immigration laws, just as President Ronald Reagan did in 1987 and President George W. Bush did in 1990 in what was known as the ‘Family Fairness Program’,” Olivares said.

“Those exercises of discretion — like President Obama’s — are permissible and even necessary for our legal system to function. With a finite number of resources, enforcement priorities must be set.”

Among the large cities to join Cities United for Immigration Action are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Denver, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Other Texas communities to join the group are Austin, Travis County and Dallas County.

Editor’s Note: El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar is pictured in her county office in El Paso, Texas.