Southern mayors work to implement new immigration policy as states sue to block it

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is part of a mayoral coalition that's working to implement President's Obama new immigration policy, while Texas Attorney General and Governor-Elect Greg Abbott is suing to block it. (Photo of Annise Parker by Zblume via Wikipedia; photo of Greg Abbott by Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia.)

Following President Obama's announcement of temporary relief from deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants, 25 mayors from across the country -- including two representing cities in the South -- are meeting today as part of an effort to make the new measure a success in their cities.

Mayors from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. are joining forces in a new coalition called Cities United for Immigration Action to support the president's immigration policy, which protects from deportation as many as 5.2 million undocumented immigrants now in the country.

"The president's action on immigration will strengthen our cities," the coalition said in a statement. "It will keep families together, grow our economies and foster additional community trust in law enforcement and government."

Hosted in New York City by Mayor Bill de Blasio, today's summit of coalition mayors and many of their immigrant affairs commissioners will focus on strategies to work with immigrant communities and local leaders to ensure as many eligible individuals as possible enroll in deferred action programs when the application period begins next spring.

The coalition also seeks to build consensus at the local level for federal comprehensive immigration reform and plans to launch a national media campaign following the summit, noted an announcement from the City of New York.

Despite being home to 1.25 million undocumented immigrants eligible for relief through the president's order, the South has only two mayors listed among the 25 in the coalition's mayoral steering committee: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, both Democrats. Representing cities with large immigrant populations, Reed and Parker have been supportive of the president's actions.

Although not listed among the mayors in the coalition, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has also been an advocate for welcoming and integrating immigrants in the city. President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech on immigration on Tuesday in Nashville, where immigration has spiked in recent years and where nearly 12 percent of residents are foreign-born.

In October, Dean opened the Mayor's Office for New Americans, which Dean's office says is "one of the first of its kind in the South." It will work with nonprofit and other partners in distributing information on the new and expanded deferred action programs.

These local efforts to implement the new immigration policy in the South come as many state leaders in the region are moving to block the order.

Reed's home state of Georgia and Parker's Texas are among 17 states -- including eight in the South -- that are suing the president over his executive action. The effort is led by Texas Attorney General and Governor-Elect Greg Abbott, a Republican who filed a lawsuit last Wednesday in a federal court in Brownsville, Texas. The lawsuit argues that the president's action was an unconstitutional overreach of presidential power and that the measure will exacerbate the border situation and force states to spend more on law enforcement, health care and education.

Besides Georgia and Texas, the other states that have signed on to the lawsuit are Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

According to numbers from the Migration Policy Institute, a total of 1.6 million undocumented immigrants in the South could be eligible for administrative relief and work permits, including 1.25 million who became eligible following the president's Nov. 20 announcement.

The Center for American Progress estimates that bringing these immigrants out of the shadows will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in increased tax revenue for states over five years, including $338 million in Texas and $190 million in Georgia.