BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Acting on behalf of U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, Brownsville mayor and attorney Tony Martinez has filed an amicus brief in federal court in support of President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

The order allows more than four million undocumented immigrants to obtain a work permit for three years and avoid deportation. “Not only are we on sound legal basis but, just as important, this is the right thing to do,” Martinez said, referring to his “friend of the court” brief.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen is presiding over the case, which is known as State of Texas v. United States. Hanen, who has publicly criticized Obama’s immigration policies in the past, has scheduled a hearing on Jan. 9 in Brownsville.

Brownsville Mayor and attorney Tony Martinez
Brownsville Mayor and attorney Tony Martinez

In December 2014, more than 20 states filed lawsuits to block implementation of the deferred action initiatives presented by Obama to the nation on TV the month before. There was widespread rejoicing in Hispanic communities when the president made the announcement. A number of Republican members of Congress have joined the lawsuit.

When filing the State of Texas’ lawsuit, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott argued that Obama was bypassing Congress and rewriting national immigration law. “The president’s proposed executive decree violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law, circumvents the will of the American people and is an affront to the families and individuals who follow our laws to legally immigrate to the United States,” Abbott said at the time.

Abbott argues Obama’s executive order is “unlawful” and will result in “dramatic and irreparable injuries.” In his brief for Vela, Martinez argues that the opposite is true.

“It will strengthen our country,” Martinez said. “This idea was well understood by our founding fathers. 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…’”

In the brief, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Martinez argues that the government’s use of deferred action is “constitutional because the Constitution and Congress have vested in the executive branch broad discretion over the enforcement of U.S. immigration law” and that the executive branch “has a well-recognized discretionary authority to prioritize enforcement resources, including through grants of deferred action.”

In a news release announcing the amicus brief, Vela, D-Brownsville, says he is a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.  During the 113th Congress, his first, Vela and U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, filed the first comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House – before any other federal lawmakers. With Republicans in the majority the bill did not go far.

“More than four million people, who work, live and call the United States home – stand to benefit from President Obama’s executive action. These actions allow these undocumented immigrants to obtain a work permit for three years, among other initiatives,” Vela said.

“During the last Congressional session, every single attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform failed. 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 is not the only person or entity filing an amicus “friend of the court” brief. Among the others are the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Define American, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), the National Immigration Law Center, New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, Service Employees International Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the United We Dream group.

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.” 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,” Olivares said.

The Vela brief points out that a similar lawsuit – brought by Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona – that sought to block Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was tossed out in federal court.