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Lawsuit over Obama immigration action divides Sandoval, Laxalt

Adam Laxalt

Andy Barron / AP

This Jan. 14, 2013, photo shows attorney Adam Laxalt introducing his wife, Jaime, and their daughter, Sophia, at the Republican Men’s Club luncheon at the Atlantis Resort-Reno.

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 | 12:21 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval speaks to the Las Vegas Sun editorial board Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012.

Attorney General Adam Laxalt announced today that Nevada will join a multistate coalition suing President Barack Obama’s contentious deportation deferral program, his first major publicized legal action and one he’s carrying out without the backing of Gov. Brian Sandoval.

“Our immigration system is broken and clearly needs to be fixed,” said Laxalt, who vowed to fight the president’s executive action shortly after it was announced in November. “The solution must be a permanent, legal result that includes, not ignores, the other branches of government and their constitutional roles.”

But Sandoval has distanced himself from his fellow Republican’s decision to join the suit, which now has the support of GOP officials from 26 states. The lead plaintiff is recently elected Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who filed the document in December while serving as that state's attorney general.

“Gov. Sandoval’s position on President Obama’s executive order has not changed since his announcement in November. He believes our immigration system is broken and it is without question that comprehensive reform is necessary,” spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said in a prepared statement. “He continues to believe that the best course of action is a legislative solution rather than legal action.”

At least two of Nevada's congressional Republicans expressed similar concerns about the lawsuit.

Sen. Dean Heller voted for the Senate's immigration bill in 2013 and said that's where Congress' focus should be.

"We can sue all we want," Heller said, "But I think at the end of the day, like the governor said, we need a legislative answer to this."

Rep. Mark Amodei, a Northern Nevada Republican who supports comprehensive immigration reform, said he's frustrated Congress and states are spending time on lawsuits instead of reforming the system with legislation. House Republicans will debate a similar lawsuit against the president next week.

"Congress needs to get off its ass and work on legislation on immigration," he said.​

Nevada Democrats issued a statement calling the suit “partisan, irresponsible and mean-spirited” and said it was “nothing more than a slap in the face to Nevada’s immigrant community.”

“If Brian Sandoval and Adam Laxalt had their way, thousands of Nevadans could face deportation and countless families would be at risk of being torn apart,” Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman Roberta Lange wrote.

A D.C. Democratic operative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, accused Sandoval and Nevada Republicans distancing themselves with the lawsuit of trying to have it both ways: Condemning Obama's executive action while avoiding the lawsuit.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, issued his own statement boasting that the suit now has the backing of officials from more than half of U.S. states.

“Texas is proud to lead a coalition that now includes a majority of the United States standing up against the president’s rogue actions,” Paxton said.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus called the suit “one more example of the Republican war on immigrants,” while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said “no other state in the country will benefit more from President Obama’s executive actions than Nevada.”

Almost half of all undocumented immigrants in Clark County qualify for deportation relief through Obama’s deferral programs, according to a study released earlier this month by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. And Nevada has the highest population share of undocumented immigrants in the country, according to the Pew Research Center.

Astrid Silva, an activist with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada who became the face of Obama’s immigration deal after getting a presidential shout-out in November, said Laxalt’s actions are misguided and “shameful.” Silva grew up undocumented in Las Vegas before qualifying for deportation relief through Obama’s 2012 action benefiting people who arrived in the country as children.

The suit has also gotten criticism from law enforcement officials throughout the country — a response filed in court earlier this month by a group of police chiefs and sheriffs argues that stopping Obama’s actions would harm public safety operations.

Metro Police spokeswoman Laura Meltzer said the department isn't voicing an opinion on Laxalt’s plans.

“That’s between the attorney general and the federal government,” Meltzer said. “It’s not our place to get in the middle of it. We just enforce the laws that are on the books.”

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