If non-Texans were still unsure how much the state's Republican lawmakers oppose President Obama's immigration and border security policies, 2015 likely cleared that up. GOP leaders here took a hard-line approach this year on everything from federal immigration proposals to beefing up law enforcement on the border.
1. Texas vs. the Obama administration’s deferred action initiative
The hopes of millions of undocumented immigrants were abruptly dashed in February when the state of Texas prevailed in a federal lawsuit that halted President Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. The plan, announced in November 2014, would have provided about 5 million undocumented immigrants the chance to apply for relief from deportation proceedings and a work permit. It was scheduled to go into effect in February, but was derailed by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville after Greg Abbott, in his former role as attorney general, filed suit to stop it.
Hanen ruled that Obama didn’t comply with the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made. A Nov. 9 ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hanen's decision. The case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
2. The cost of securing the border
The surge of Central American immigrants entering Texas illegally in 2014 created an appetite for more law enforcement on the border. The Texas Legislature fed it in 2015 with an $800 million earmark to bolster the ranks of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) in the region.
The record-setting appropriation gives DPS the authority to fast-track the hiring of certain military veterans who have been honorably discharged, increases penalties for human smuggling and creates a transnational intelligence center on the border to analyze crime data.
The effort was opposed by Texas Democrats who argued the appropriation was an overreaction to the influx of immigrants, mostly women and children who turned themselves in to law enforcement after fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.
3. Different session, but same immigration outcomes at the Capitol
Although Abbott was able to forestall a national immigration program, a bill repealing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants never made it to his desk. The Legislature also failed to enact a measure to punish “sanctuary cities” — the common term for cities or other governmental entities that don’t let local cops enforce federal immigration laws.
The measures were never considered a go in the more moderate Texas House. But pre-session predictions that they would sail out of the Texas Senate also fell short after two Republican senators made it clear they would not vote with the rest of their party to bring the measures to the upper chamber’s floor.
4. A fight over birth certificates
In May, attorneys representing a group of undocumented immigrant parents sued the Texas Department of State Health Services after county registrars, upon orders of the agency, refused to issue the families birth certificates for their U.S. citizen children. They claim the practice violates the children’s 14th Amendment rights under the Constitution.
The parents alleged the agency ordered the counties to stop accepting Mexican consular IDs and Central American passports as proof of the parents’ identity without notifying the public of the policy change. The agency said the practice has been in place since 2008, and DSHS realized some counties weren’t following the rules only after recent audits.
In October, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman declined to grant the parents emergency relief while the court case plays out, though he said he has serious concerns about the agency’s refusal to issue the vital document. Pitman instead said both sides needed to go through the full hearing process, which is still pending in his court.
5. Fast-tracking licenses for immigration detention centers isn't an "emergency"
In September, Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit immigrant rights group opposed to for-profit prisons, filed a lawsuit against the Texas Heath and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services after the agencies posted an emergency rule in order to license two privately-run detention centers as state residential centers. The centers house up to 2,000 undocumented immigrant women and children that have crossed illegally into Texas through the Rio Grande Valley.
The state was moving quickly in order to comply with a July order by California-based United States District Judge Dolly Gee, who ruled the government was holding the immigrants in “deplorable” conditions.
In November, State District Judge Karin Crump of Travis County ruled there was no "emergency" that required that the state's licenses be fast-tracked. Though the centers can still obtain the licenses through normal procedures, immigrants rights groups hailed Crump’s decision as a victory because it required the state to hold public hearings and let opponents of detention voice their concerns. It’s unclear when a final decision on the licenses will be made.