AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry has told state agencies that the Obama administration's new program allowing some illegal immigrants to avoid deportation is "a slap in the face to the rule of law," and clarified that Texas' immigration policies won't change.
In a letter dated Aug. 16 that was addressed and sent Monday to all agency heads individually, as well as to Attorney General Greg Abbott, Perry said he was seeking to "avoid any confusion on the impact of the Obama administration's actions." He added that the federal policy confers "absolutely no legal status whatsoever to any alien who qualifies."
Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, students age 30 or younger who are enrolled in school on the day they apply will now be eligible for a two-year reprieve from deportation if they demonstrate they came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday; lived in the country for the past five years; and have not been convicted of certain crimes or pose a national security threat.
Last week, young people around the nation formed long lines to attend information sessions and briefings on the new program.
In his letter, Perry referenced media reports that "thousands of aliens in Texas are eligible to apply for relief from deportation under the guidelines."
The governor wrote that he has previously stated his staunch opposition to the new policy, and his letter criticized the Obama administration for attempting to "unilaterally undermine the law through a policy statement issued under the cover of so-called 'prosecutorial discretion.'"
He said the move was "a slap in the face to the rule of law and our Constitutional framework of separated powers."
But Perry also wrote that the program "does not undermine or change our state laws" and that he expects state agencies to keep enforcing them.
A spokeswoman for the governor, Catherine Frazier, said that even though the policy won't alter state law, Perry has been very clear in opposing it.
During his unsuccessful run for president, Perry strongly defended a Texas law that grants cheaper, in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who attended a Texas high school for at least three years. He also was a vocal opponent of a fence stretching the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Still, Frazier said Perry opposes the way the new policy has been implemented: "They basically circumvented the whole process."
It was a sentiment echoed by attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Bean, who said the Obama administration doesn't have the authority to ignore the law.
"As it does in all cases, the Attorney General's Office is prepared to defend Texas law — and any state agencies that are challenged for following the law and complying with the governor's directive," Bean said in a statement Monday.
Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order directing her state's agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to illegal immigrants who obtain work authorizations under the program. Arizona passed one of the nation's toughest anti-immigration laws and Brewer said the federal program doesn't give immigrants legal status and she's following the intent of the current state law denying public benefits to them.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinemann has said his state won't extend program participants' driver's licenses, welfare benefits or public assistance.
Perry's letter does not direct any action in response to the new program. Instead, Frazier said the governor "wanted, on the record, to let agencies know what he expects of them."