Tennessee is joining 24 other states in a lawsuit challenging the recent immigration actions by President Barack Obama.
After pondering the decision for several weeks, in a statement Monday Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said it was in the state’s best interest to sue the president.
“While the subject of the executive action was immigration, the lawsuit is not about immigration,” Slatery said in a news release.
“It is really more about the rule of law and the limitations that prevent the executive branch from taking over a role constitutionally reserved for Congress. The executive directives issued by the White House and Homeland Security conflict with existing federal law.”
Earlier this year Obama announced he would sign executive orders to help delay deportation and provide work permits for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Immigration reform activists welcomed the plan, but Republicans across the country and in Tennessee immediately cried foul, saying the president didn’t have the authority to take such action.
Tennessee Republican lawmakers were quick to laud Slatery’s decision. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said the Knoxville Republican has confidence in Slatery’ position.
“( Haslam) believes there was an opportunity to have a real discussion on what immigration policy should be, and the president’s actions took that opportunity off the table,” said spokesman Dave Smith.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he was proud Slatery decided Tennessee would stand up to the president’s “truly shocking display of executive arrogance.” Former state Senate judiciary committee chairman Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, also thanked Slatery for challenging actions she considered “an unconstitutional usurpation of power.”
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker along with Rep. Diane Black, both R-Tenn., issued statements applauding Slatery and denouncing the president’s actions, as they did right after Obama signed the orders.
“Tennessee’s voice will help send an important message: the Founders of our country did not want a king, and the American people don’t want a president who acts like one. I’m glad Attorney General Slatery has decided to join this important lawsuit about the rule of law in our constitutional system,” Alexander said in a statement.
Tennessee Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, have supported the president’s plan. Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said Tennessee took a step backward by joining the lawsuit.
“Instead of finding ways to harness the economic potential of immigrants, who through executive action will be able to work legally and will add millions of dollars to our state economy, our attorney general has joined the ranks of anti-immigrant states like Alabama and Arizona under a frivolous, costly lawsuit to prevent the actions from being implemented,” Teatro, said in a statement.
Obama has responded to critics multiple times, including on a recent trip to Nashville to promote his immigration actions, saying the orders are legal and he had to act because Congress chooses not to pass a comprehensive bill.
Slatery acknowledged an act of Congress could solve any legal problems surrounding the executive orders.
“But in the meantime the state cannot sit on the sidelines of this case, when unlawful directives of this magnitude grant lawful presence and other rights like work permits to such a large number,” Slatery said in the statement.
There are an estimated 124,000 immigrants living in Tennessee illegally, with as many as 50,000 in Nashville. Teatro estimated 50,000 undocumented immigrants in Tennessee will be able to benefit from the orders.