By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Kathleen Hennessey and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
The Obama administration on Tuesday said it would appeal a move by a federal judge in Texas that temporarily stopped the president’s executive actions on immigration, an anticipated judicial roadblock that was greeted with partisan reactions.
In a decision released late Monday night, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen put on hold Obama’s executive action to protect between 4 million and 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation. The first of the actions, expanding a program that protects young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, was set to launch on Wednesday.
In a statement released early Tuesday morning, the White House said Obama’s November actions are within the president’s legal authority. The White House argued that the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can establish priorities in enforcing immigration laws.
“The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision,” the statement said.
The White House would turn to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. There was not yet an indication when the White House would act and the timing could be complicated by Mardi Gras in New Orleans and snow in Washington.
Hanen issued a preliminary injunction blocking the federal programs from going into effect. He did not rule on the merits of the case brought by a coalition of 26 states, led by Texas.
In a memorandum accompanying the order, Hanen wrote that the suit should go forward. Without a preliminary injunction, he said, the states would “suffer irreparable harm in this case.”
“The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle,” he wrote, adding that he agreed that legalizing the presence of millions of people is a “virtually irreversible” action.
The government of Mexico on Tuesday said it regretted the court decision.
Mexican nationals make up the largest single group of immigrants who crossed the border illegally. The Mexican government, however, has been careful not to appear to be interfering in U.S. immigration policy.
“We reiterate that these programs mean just migratory relief for millions of families and could make possible contributions by Mexican migrants to the U.S. economy and society,” the Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement.
“The Foreign Ministry calls on the Mexican community to remain informed about the development of the judicial-review process through official sources,” the statement added, cautioning Mexican nationals against possible fraudulent efforts by unscrupulous immigration brokers.
But most of the reaction to the court’s action was along partisan lines.
“The Texas court decision reached last night is a major turning point in the fight to stop Obama’s lawless amnesty,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a conservative who has been fighting the Obama administration on immigration. “This is a major victory for the rule of law; the District Court’s ruling states that President Obama must now stop implementing these policies in ‘any and all aspects.’ Last summer we saw a humanitarian crisis on our southern border that was a direct consequence of Obama’s previous amnesty. Republicans are now standing together to try to ensure that it never happens again.”
Congress, which is on recess this week, has been stymied in dealing with legislation that links a repeal of Obama’s actions to the funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans in the House passed legislation linking the issues, but the bill has been blocked in the Senate where Democrats have called for a clean funding bill and a separate debate on immigration.
Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) indicated that in the House the GOP would continue pushing for a bill linking immigration and funding.
“The president said 22 times he did not have the authority to take the very action on immigration he eventually did, so it is no surprise that at least one court has agreed,” Boehner said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to follow the case as it moves through the legal process. Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department.”
Groups that represent undocumented immigrants condemned the Texas ruling and said it would only delay what they consider to be important actions by the Obama administration to deal with the complex issues of immigration reform.
“We disagree with the court’s decision and believe a higher court will reaffirm the legitimacy of administrative relief, siding with countless legal scholars that the president was well within his authority to act,” said Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, a leading advocacy group.
Obama’s executive actions “are among the only commonsense solutions on immigration that have emerged in the last two decades. Detractors of these programs may try to paint this as a fight with the president, but make no mistake: Attempts to dismantle these programs are attacks on American families. They are attacks on U.S. citizen spouses and children who are seeing their families torn apart because some of our lawmakers refuse to do what is necessary to fix our immigration system,” Murguia said.
Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted praise for the judge’s order late Monday, saying it “stops the president’s overreach in its tracks.”
“We live in a nation governed by a system of checks and balances, and the president’s attempt to bypass the will of the American people was successfully checked today,” Abbott wrote.
The White House, in a statement from Press Secretary Josh Earnest, said “the Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts, and the district court in Washington, D.C., have determined that the president’s actions are well within his legal authority.”
The ruling “prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect,” the statement said.
The judge’s order bars federal immigration officials from implementing “any and all aspects” of the program that Obama announced in November.
After the White House and the GOP couldn’t reach agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, Obama announced that he would act on his own and used his executive authority to defer deportation for about 4.7 million immigrants illegally in the United States.
DAPA includes more than 4 million people who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
Obama also expanded DACA, which allows young people brought into the United States as children to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits.
The 26 states promptly sued, arguing that Obama had overstepped his constitutional authority by acting without congressional approval.
The administration has argued that Obama acted within his constitutional powers, a position supported by four lawyers who formerly served as general counsel to the immigration agency. The administration also argues that the states lack legal authority, known as standing, to challenge the immigration order in court.
“This injunction makes it clear that the president is not a law unto himself, and must work with our elected leaders in Congress and satisfy the courts in a fashion our Founding Fathers envisioned,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement late Monday.
Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition, called it “a very good decision.”
“This is something that should be handled legislatively — it’s too big of an issue for one person to dictate it,” Reay said, adding that he hopes the decision will “make Congress realize they need to start doing something — they need to work together. Maybe this will precipitate something, not further the chasm.”
The president has been supported by about a dozen states, led by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Groups representing cities — including Los Angeles New York, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia — have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Obama.
(Staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City contributed to this report.)
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with a group of young undocumented immigrants in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The five immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who meet with the president have received protections from deportation under a program Obama implemented in 2012. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)