If victorious, as A.G. Pruitt will sue Feds for state costs tied to immigration

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 20-May-2010

Former state Sen. Scott Pruitt, a Republican candidate for Attorney General, told Capitol reporters today that, if elected, he will sue the U.S. government over its failure to enforce immigration laws. He said litigation would force “accountability on the federal government.” Pruitt also said he would seek to recover the direct costs the state of Oklahoma incurs due to lack of U.S. enforcement.

He said, “We will call on the federal government to act on its exiting authority and do its job. The message to the federal government is ‘do your job. There won’t be a need to pass new legislation, if you will do your job.’ ”

Pruitt called the approach “innovative.” He defended Arizona, which recently passed a controversial new state law aimed at curbing illegal immigration, saying Arizona’s provisions are “actually not in conflict with federal law. The state merely empowered itself to be consistent and to harmonize with federal law.”

However, he described the proposed litigation as a better approach: “It says to the federal government, ‘You hold us responsible, so we’re going to hold you responsible.’ It is within the power and authority of the attorney general to take this kind of action.”

Pruitt said such a lawsuit holds out chances of “recovery for the states. Money is important, but the real issue here is accountability and the federal government doing its job.” Asked if his approach meant there would be no need for the Oklahoma Legislature to act further on immigration, he replied, “The Legislature has to make policy decisions and that is their job. I would merely say it would be unnecessary for the Legislature to act if we had a lawsuit like this under way. Immigration is the federal government’s responsibility. It’s their irresponsibility and unwillingness to do what’s necessary to secure our border that has led to actions like the Arizona law and the earlier Oklahoma law.” 

Pruitt stressed, “It is not our agenda to force Congress to pass a new law, it is to call for enforcement of the law as it already stands.” It would require “some time for legal research and preparation, but I can tell you it would be one of the first things I would do as attorney general.”

Pruitt observed, “We in the state are placed in an uncomfortable position of seeing a lack of federal enforcement. The main benefit of this would be the states would not have to act instead of the federal government, if the federal government is doing its job. The federal government has exclusive authority to act, but its inaction has forced the states to try to find a way to hold the federal government accountable.”

In his prepared statement, Pruitt said, “Far too often, the federal government has decided to pursue aggressive policies, such as the nationalization of health care, which I believe violate the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, while choosing to ignore the limited duties it should have. According Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution, the Congress has the obligation, duty and responsibility to ‘establish a uniform rule of naturalization’ and our courts have interpreted this to mean that Congress also has the power to regulate immigration.”

As an example of federal shortfalls, he pointed to the federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which provides only a fraction of state costs affiliated with incarcerated of undocumented aliens. “To me, this seems like a straightforward approach.  It is time for the people to use every means available, including the court system, to make our federal government more responsive.”

Pruitt said, “It is my hope that this lawsuit will do more than simply recoup the dollars lost by Oklahoma taxpayers.  I am taking this aggressive approach as a way to encourage other Attorneys General and other conservatives across the nation to begin thinking differently about how we can rein in the federal government.  And, if it makes Congress and the President finally act and do something meaningful on illegal immigration, all the better.”

One reporter asked if Pruitt was concerned about being labeled an activist attorney general. He grinned and replied, “I plan on being an activist attorney general. That’s why I’m running.”