(Bloomberg) — The blocking of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration by a federal judge in Texas is fueling partisan debate in Congress over the plan to protect about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The order filed Monday by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, temporarily halts the administration from carrying out the policies Obama announced after the November elections. Hanen’s order found that Texas, which sued the administration along with 25 states, had satisfied the requirements to bring a lawsuit.
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The judge blocked the administration from carrying out the executive order while the legal battle plays out. The ruling is likely to become fodder in a standoff in Congress between Republicans seeking to reverse Obama’s orders and Democrats who’ve maintained a united front in the Senate against even debating the matter.
The ruling “reinforces what I and many others have been saying for a long time: that President Obama acted outside the law when he went around Congress to unilaterally change our nation’s immigration laws,” U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said in a statement. He added that “the fight to reverse the President’s unconstitutional overreach is not over.”
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The Obama administration said it would appeal the ruling.
“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,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. “The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect.”
Obama said in November the executive actions would focus the Department of Homeland Security’s resources on deporting violent criminals, protecting other undocumented immigrants from deportation. The executive order would allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens to apply for work authorization under a “deferred action” plan that would also spare them from deportation.
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The first part of Obama’s orders, an expansion of a 2012 program protecting children from deportation, was set to go into effect Wednesday.
The judge’s ruling means those under the age of 16 who arrived on or before January 2010 won’t be able to apply for the program, said David Leopold, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Yet, the ruling has little effect on actual deportations, he said.
“None of this has to do with starting or stopping deportations,” Leopold said. “They were already using all of the resources available in deporting as many people per year.”
Immigration advocates cast the ruling as a minor blow since the White House was careful to legally vet the orders before issuing them.
“This ruling — issued by a lone, out-of-touch judge, singularly sought out by extremist Republican governors and attorneys general — is a temporary disappointment, but in no way a permanent setback,” said Rocio Saenz, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union.
Hanen has previously criticized the Obama administration for turning “a blind eye to criminal conduct.”
The judge said in his 123-page ruling that the states are “concerned about their own resources being drained by the constant influx of illegal immigrants into their respective territories, and that this continual flow of illegal immigration has led and will lead to serious domestic security issues directly affecting their citizenry.”
Republicans may use the decision to pressure a handful of Democrats, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, to join them to bring the legislation up for consideration when Congress returns next week. Obama’s has threatened to veto any legislation reversing his directives.
The Senate has voted three times on a House-passed bill that undoes the president’s November directives giving about 5 million undocumented immigrants a reprieve from deportation.
The measure is attached to a must-pass bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
“President Obama said at least 22 times he didn’t have the authority to do what he did on immigration. No surprise that Judge Hanen agrees,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ll follow the case as it moves forward. Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose these unilateral immigration actions will now let the Senate begin debate on our bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.”
The agency would face a shutdown of non-essential operations if Congress doesn’t agree on a spending bill before funding ends Feb. 27. Obama has said he will veto anything that cancels his orders.
Over the weekend, tensions between Democrats and Republicans intensified as House Speaker John Boehner said on the “Fox News Sunday” program that he’s prepared to let homeland security funding lapse if the Senate fails to act on the House-passed bill.
One Republican, Representative John Carter of Texas, who in the past has tried to craft a bipartisan compromise to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, said the ruling could also help defuse the standoff.
Some rank-and-file Republicans have said Congress could pass a short-term bill to fund the department while the case is appealed, said Carter.
“This is a victory for the Constitution,” said Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, in a Facebook posting.
“This ruling defends the Constitution and protects the rule of law,” Abbott wrote on his personal website.
The case is State of Texas, v. United States of America, 14-cv-00254, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Brownsville).
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- Politics & Government
- President Barack Obama
- Andrew S. Hanen
- Brownsville, Texas
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[video] Obama's Orders on Immigration Are Halted by Federal Judge in Texas
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