AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Gov.-elect Greg Abbott vows another lawsuit against the Obama administration. Attorneys for immigrants in the U.S. illegally jailed under federal detainers are hopeful but skeptical. Business groups predict the Texas economy will get a boost but fume over how it was done.
President Barack Obama's unilateral order on immigration provoked a range of reaction Friday — but not much else. An estimated 743,000 people in Texas illegally could be eligible under Obama's order, more than anywhere except California, but Republican leaders are keeping state business as usual.
It didn't stop the Obama administration from making Texas among the symbolic first stops Friday to tout plans to spare nearly 5 million people living in the U.S. illegally from deportation. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at a U.S. Border Patrol station near McAllen that the order draws a "sharp demarcation" between the past and future.
"Our clear message is our borders are not open to future illegal migration, and those who come here are going to be priorities for removal in the future," Johnson said, the McAllen Monitor reported.
Texas has about 1.4 million immigrants living in the state without legal permission, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Abbott, who brags about suing the Obama administration more than 30 times as attorney general, is pledging one more before taking over for Gov. Rick Perry in January. He slammed Obama for "bestowing a legacy of lawlessness" and echoed other Republicans by calling the president's actions "dictatorial." The White House insists Obama is on solid legal ground.
Regardless of the outcome of any challenges, Abbott simply filing a lawsuit is likely to further drive immigration as a Republican priority when the Legislature returns under a heavier tea party influence following this month's elections. Already, bills have been filed that would repeal the so-called Texas DREAM Act, which gives in-state tuition to immigrant students and is opposed by Abbott. Divisive "sanctuary cities" proposals that roiled tensions in the Capitol in 2011 over whether local police should ask detainees about their immigration status are also back.
Democrats, who are overwhelmingly outnumbered in both chambers, are left hoping GOP proposals are just rhetoric.
"We've already seen a bunch of chest-thumping down in Austin regarding immigration. But It's just something that can and must be solved at the federal level," state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said.
Perry announced plans this week to spend an additional $86 million to extend a months-old border security mission through next summer. About 1,000 Texas National Guard troops on the border are set to return home by spring, and will be replaced with state troopers and technology.
Immigration groups in Texas and local sheriffs are being forced to take a close look at Obama's measures.
The federal Secure Communities program, which hands over people booked for local crimes in county jails to federal immigration authorities, is being replaced with a new program intended to prioritize the most dangerous suspects. More than 5,400 county jail inmates had immigration detainers as of Oct. 1, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Advocates who've blasted the program as a dragnet that keeps suspects languishing in jails for relatively minor offenses were greeting the change with skepticism.
"Communities are going to be really, really vigilant and make sure it's not the same monster with a new name," said Amelia Ruiz Fischer, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Associated Press Writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report. Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber