A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama's executive actions on immigration, issuing a decision barely a day before the first phase of the executive action had been slated to begin and launching a potentially lengthy legal battle that could take weeks to resolve.
Responding to a lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 other states, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction late Monday that halts the implementation of "any and all" aspects of the president's effort to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
"The court finds that the government’s failure to secure the border has exacerbated illegal immigration into this country."'
Hasen's decision suggests he sides with at least part of the states' argument that local governments have suffered a substantial burden in implementing the measures. The preliminary injunction puts a temporary hold on the implementation of the executive action while Hanen makes a final decision.
The development only temporarily puts the brakes on sign-ups for the program -- it does not throw out Obama's executive measures as a whole. But the decision delays when those who would have been eligible for the program are able to enroll. It also raises uncertainties over if and when many of those who would be eligible to seek deportation protection under the action will be able to do so.
The first stage of applications were scheduled to roll out Wednesday, expanding the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to undocumented immigrants older than 30. The second, and more extensive, phase of the program was to begin later this spring. Now, undocumented immigrants who would have been eligible for the two programs must wait and see how the situation plays out in the courts.
The White House will appeal the decision, saying in a statement Tuesday morning that the president worked well within his powers in determining which undocumented immigrants the federal government's prioritizes for deportation.
“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 White House statement said. “The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, common sense policies from taking effect, and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.”
Republicans have led a two-pronged charge against the unilateral actions, arguing that the president overstepped his authority in implementing such broad protections to undocumented immigrants. On top of the state-level lawsuit, congressional Republicans have sought to gut the executive actions by tying its implementation to legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security. The House GOP passed legislation last month to fund the agency through September on the condition that funding be withheld from the executive measures. Democrats have successfully filibustered the bill in the Senate, while the White House has made clear that the president will not sign any legislation to unravel his own program.
The congressional Republican strategy has come with some risk. The critical government agency is at risk of shutting down by Feb. 27 without congressional action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, said in a statement Tuesday that Republicans will not be backing down.
"This ruling underscores what the President has already acknowledged publicly 22 times,” McConnell said in a statement. “He doesn’t have the authority to take the kinds of actions he once referred to as 'ignoring the law' and 'unwise and unfair.' Senate Democrats, especially those who've voiced opposition to the President’s executive overreach, should end their partisan filibuster of Department of Homeland Security funding."
Hanen in the past has been a staunch critic of the Obama administration's immigration policies. His decision Monday, however, is narrow in arguing that the president overstepped his authority by overlooking administrative procedures in bringing on the unilateral measures. The burden those policies have had on states, Hanen wrote, is clear.
“The court finds that the government’s failure to secure the border has exacerbated illegal immigration into this country,” Judge Hanen wrote. “Further, the record supports the finding that this lack of enforcement, combined with the country’s high rate of illegal immigration, significantly drains the states’ resources.”
It's not likely by chance that Texas is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. That state's officials have acknowledged that they were "uniquely qualified" to take the lead, and were able to choose which district court to file their complaints. They chose Brownsville, where they had a 50/50 chance of having Hanen hear the case. Once the federal government appeals Hanen's decision the case will be brought before another conservative court -- a panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This decision is a victory for the rule of law in America and a crucial first step in reining in President Obama’s lawlessness,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “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.”
Immigration advocates have said they still plan to push forward in getting undocumented immigrants prepared for the application process despite the hitch.
“Our community won executive action when we stood together and fought for it," Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream said in a statement. "Today, a single Texas Judge may have delayed the applications for executive action but United We Dream hasn’t delayed anything. Preparation for executive action is going full steam ahead.”