The ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a President George W. Bush appointee with a history of controversial anti-immigration rulings, doesn’t say whether the president’s action is legal or constitutional. It does, however, suggest that Hanen is seriously considering siding with the 26 states that are suing to halt the order.
The ruling blocks the order from being implemented while Hanen decides on the legal merits of the case, and it also finds that the administration should have allowed a longer public comment period on the action.
Hanen has been a vocal opponent of Obama’s executive action. His opinion inaccurately characterizes the action, which does not provide an avenue to full citizenship, as “amnesty.” Hanen in a December order said that the federal government had taken a “dangerous course of action” when it did not bring charges against an undocumented mother who had been reunited with her 10-year-old daughter.
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Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday called Hanen’s injunction an “interim step” in a long process and “a decision by one federal district court judge.” The Department of Justice is expected to appeal the decision.
“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,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday.
The president’s executive action, which would protect nearly five million immigrants from deportation and allow them to apply for work permits, expanded one existing deportation-relief program and created another. It allowed immigrants older than 30 who came to the United States as children to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and it created the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program to protect undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was supposed to start accepting applications on Wednesday for new DACA recipients, but now that will have to wait. Depending on how the legal battle plays out, implementation of DAPA in May could also be delayed.
“As an organization committed to the health and rights of immigrant Latinas and their families, we are deeply disappointed with today’s decision,” Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said in a statement.
DAPA and the expanded DACA should be allowed to go forward, González-Rojas said, because they would “save lives, keep families together, and ensure that immigrant women and families can contribute to our nation’s shared prosperity without the constant threat of deportation.”
Some advocates worry that even a temporarily delay would create a chilling effect, worsening the challenges organizers have with finding eligible immigrants and convincing them that it’s safe to apply for the program.
To help avoid this, advocates, immigrants, and elected officials held more than 75 “Ready for DACA” and “Ready for DAPA” events around the country to continue preparing for registration in spite of the ruling.
The injunction doesn’t appear to be having any effect on the standoff over DHS funding in Congress. Republicans can’t force a bill defunding several of the president’s immigration programs past a Democratic filibuster, and Obama has threatened to veto any such bill if it did pass through both chambers.
Instead of being appeased by the judge’s order, Republican leadership continued Tuesday to demand that Democrats end their Senate filibuster. And Democrats aren’t discouraged enough by the ruling to budge.
“This procedural ruling, in our opinion, is very unlikely to be upheld, but regardless of the outcome Democrats remain united in our belief that funding for the Department of Homeland Security should not be used as a ransom by Republicans, period,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement.