Opening another front in the battle over immigration policy, Texas and six other states sued the federal government on Tuesday in an attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The lawsuit — joined by Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia — asserts that the Obama administration overstepped its authority when it created the DACA program, which allows individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country, without congressional approval.
“The executive unilaterally conferred lawful presence and work authorization on otherwise unlawfully present aliens, and then the executive used that lawful-presence ‘dispensation’ to unilaterally confer United States citizenship,” the lawsuit says.
It calls on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas to “immediately rescind and cancel all DACA permits currently in existence because they are unlawful,” or at a minimum to block the government “from issuing or renewing DACA permits in the future, effectively phasing out the program within two years.”
The lawsuit represents a strange conflict between two parties that do not actually disagree. President Trump, too, wants to get rid of DACA: He ordered an end to the program in September and called on Congress to pass a replacement law, though it has not done so.
But the repeal has been delayed by legal challenges. Just last week, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the government must keep the program in place and start accepting applications again, unless it can provide a stronger legal justification for abandoning it. And federal judges have ordered the administration to preserve DACA while two other lawsuits, in San Francisco and Brooklyn, proceed.
“Three activist federal judges have blocked the federal government from canceling DACA,” Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, whose office filed the lawsuit, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “That means that unelected federal judges are forcing the Trump administration to leave an unlawful program in place indefinitely as legal challenges drag on.”
And so, while the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and its constituent agencies are the ones being sued, the real targets are the judges who have ruled against the Trump administration. Mr. Paxton hopes that the judges who rule on it — perhaps ultimately the justices of the United States Supreme Court — will let Mr. Trump proceed with the repeal he already wants.
A Homeland Security spokeswoman said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit drew condemnation from the Texas Democratic Party — whose chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, said Mr. Paxton’s “cruel anti-immigration agenda will rip over 124,000 Texans away from their families and jeopardize our economy” — and other supporters of the DACA program.
Mr. Paxton “said he is challenging DACA not to be cruel or inhumane, which the lawsuit is both, but to determine the legality of DACA,” Jessica Azua, the immigration campaign coordinator for the Texas Organizing Project and a DACA recipient, said in a statement. “But DACA is already being contested in the courts, so its legality will be determined in due time.”
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Tuesday’s lawsuit was “extremely late,” given that DACA was introduced six years ago and federal courts have been acting in favor of its preservation for months.
Mr. Paxton’s office has been one of the most outspoken in the country against DACA and a similar policy — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA — that was blocked by the courts and never implemented. The successful lawsuit against DAPA, which reached the Supreme Court in 2016, was also filed by a coalition of states led by Texas.
In June 2017, Mr. Paxton threatened to challenge DACA as well. Because Mr. Trump ordered an end to DACA three months later, Mr. Paxton delayed that challenge — until now.
Follow Maggie Astor on Twitter: @MaggieAstor.
Manny Fernandez contributed reporting.