The standoff between the cities and states over a policy that crystallizes anxiety about the nation's tumultuous demographic change compresses more of modern American politics into a single confrontation than might seem possible.
The most obvious difference between the city and state coalitions is their partisan leaning. Of the 26 states that joined the lawsuit, 24 have Republican governors. In the two other states (Montana and West Virginia), Republican attorneys general joined the case while the Democratic governors pointedly refused to do so. Of the four Democratic attorneys general in office in the 26 states when the case was filed, only Arkansas' Dustin McDaniel signed on.
By contrast, the mayors who joined the litigation are all Democrats, including Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, Bill de Blasio in New York City, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, Kasim Reed in Atlanta, Michael Nutter in Philadelphia, and Annise Parker in Houston. The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities, which are nonpartisan and include mayors from both parties, also joined the suit--but no Republican mayors are participating as individuals.
That alignment reflects the "density divide" that now sees Democrats dominating the vast majority of the nation's urban centers and Republicans ruling almost everywhere outside of them. While Obama won by about 5 million votes in 2012, he lost more than three-fourths of the nation's 3,112 counties, and relied on his 100 best counties to produce more of his overall vote margin than any winner since at least 1920.
Many of the cities supporting Obama in the case are at the forefront of the growing racial diversity remaking the country. For instance, in each of the six cities noted above that intervened, minorities constitute about three-quarters or more of the students in the K-12 public school system.
Big cities are also on the front line of dealing with the nation's estimated population of roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants. Of those 11 million, just over 5 million are expected to qualify for legal protection under Obama's executive action.
The population of undocumented immigrants has substantially dispersed since the last major legalization under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. But even so, a significant portion of that population remains concentrated in the largest cities.
A Next America analysis of Migration Policy Institute data found the counties that include cities intervening in the lawsuit are home to an estimated 4.76 million undocumented immigrants. Of those, 2.06 million are projected to qualify for legal protection under Obama's order. Topping the list are Los Angeles (with 466,000 eligible), New York City (238,000 eligible), Houston (196,000 eligible), and Chicago (171,000 eligible).
All told, the 26 states suing Obama house 4.45 million undocumented immigrants--about 300,000 less than the cities intervening to support him, according to the MPI data. The MPI estimates the states opposing Obama have 2.05 million undocumented immigrants eligible for the action, about the same as the cities. But subtracting the totals for cities like Houston and Atlanta that have intervened for Obama from the states opposing him, reduces the state total of eligible undocumented immigrants to about 1.8 million, below the city tally.