Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a push over the summer to pressure the Trump administration to end the DACA program, said that he would not sue if Congress passed similar protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
In an interview on Thursday on AM to DM, BuzzFeed News' morning show, Paxton said that his opposition to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was rooted in the fact that the Obama administration adopted it via executive action, not the policies themselves.
"That's completely within the power of Congress — if they want to pass a thing similar to what President Obama made up, that's fine ... that's within their authority to do. And so no, we would not bring a lawsuit against Congress for passing the very same thing, if that's what they want to do," Paxton said.
President Donald Trump had seemed to struggle this year with what to do about the DACA program, even as he ramped up immigration enforcement. In June, Paxton and a group of Republican state attorneys general signed a letter saying they would file a legal challenge to DACA if Trump did not end it by Sept. 5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced — on Sept. 5 — that the administration would phase out the program. Thursday was the last day for current recipients to apply for a renewal.
Asked if he received a response from Trump or White House officials after sending the June letter, Paxton said that the administration had "acknowledged that they couldn't defend this legally."
"We had communication back and forth, and so we knew that they understood that this was unconstitutional, that they needed to do something about it," Paxton said. "Look, the president and his administration have a lot of issues to deal with, this was just one of them that we wanted to put at the top of their list, and we did it."
Paxton's office is in court now defending a Texas law that prohibits cities from enforcing so-called "sanctuary" policies, which are designed to protect undocumented immigrants during their interactions with government officials and law enforcement. A federal appeals court last week said Texas could enforce parts of the law, known as SB 4, while a legal challenge moved forward. Paxton said on Thursday that he hoped his office wouldn't have to pursue any criminal charges.
"It seems to me like we're going to get cooperation," Paxton said. "My hope is that this has a result that the legislature intended, which is that people that are in positions of authority that are dealing with criminals who need to be deported, who are here illegally — and that's what we're talking about, criminals — that these cities, instead of protecting those and releasing them into the public and risking the safety of our citizens, they'll actually follow the law."
Local officials, law enforcement agencies, and immigrant rights advocates in Texas that support sanctuary policies have argued that they promote public safety and build trust with immigrant communities. Paxton said the law was focused on criminals, and included exceptions for victims of crime and witnesses.
"You know, people have different opinions, but I always encourage them to read the bill before they challenge it," he said.
Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a large immigration sweep in several cities with sanctuary policies, but not in Texas. Paxton said he wasn't aware of plans for a similar operation in his state, "but that doesn't mean they're not working on it."
To the extent cities are cooperating under SB 4, he said, "there may be less need for it."
Paxton's office recently has been handling a surge of fraud complaints in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. He said his office received more than 5,000 complaints since the hurricane, many related to alleged overcharging or price-gouging for fuel, shelter, food, and water. He said his office had already filed three lawsuits, and would likely file hundreds more, but it would take time to build those cases.
"We actually have to go send out officers, which we have in our office, to go investigate, to make sure those are legitimate complaints, and if they are, we're pursuing them," he said.