Latino Memphis Executive Director Mauricio Calvo came to Memphis from Mexico City two decades ago to attend Christian Brothers University. Since then, he's witnessed close friends, who were in the U.S. without proper documentation, deported from Memphis back to their native countries.
"When [undocumented immigrants] say goodbye to their loved ones [in the morning], they don't know if they're going to come home that night," Calvo said. "And that's a real hard thing to live with."
A coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, has filed a lawsuit against President Obama, alleging his recent executive actions on immigration are unconstitutional. Tennessee was among the last states to join the multi-state coalition.
Last November, Obama introduced his "Immigration Accountability Executive Action" to provide relief to undocumented immigrants nationwide.
The executive action seeks to enable undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least five years or are the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to remain in the country temporarily. They would have to pass a criminal background check and pay back taxes. Those who qualify would be eligible to receive a three-year work permit.
Under the new policy, Obama would also expand the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program currently prohibits the deportation of people brought into the U.S. illegally as minors by their parents before June 15, 2007. The expansion would extend the cutoff date to January 1, 2010.
There's a substantial number of immigrants in Tennessee, many of whom are undocumented. According to the Pew Research Center, around 300,000 Hispanic immigrants reside in the Volunteer State. More than 130,000 are undocumented.
According to a statement provided by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slater, Tennessee joined the lawsuit because "the executive directives issued by the White House and Homeland Security conflict with existing federal law. They replace prosecutorial discretion, normally determined on a case-by-case basis, with a unilateral non-enforcement policy protecting over four million people."
In addition to Texas and Tennessee, other states in the lawsuit include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, and several others.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) supports Slater's decision to join the lawsuit. He said Obama's executive action is an abuse of regulations that's contrary to the law.
"Somebody has got to stand up and push back against this madness," Norris said. "As the attorney general put it, it's not about immigration as much as it is about regulation and the illegality of extending regulations beyond what the law will allow."
There are estimated to be more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center. More than four million will be able to benefit from Obama's new deportation relief programs if a judge doesn't rule in the states' favor to block the executive action.
"It's a waste of resources," Calvo said. "With all of the things that we have to do as a state, we're allocating tax money to fight the federal government on something that's a dead end. The president acted within his power, regardless of how they feel about this. We are wasting money on a lawsuit that makes no sense."