Ten U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are asking a federal judge to block an initiative by the Obama administration that defers deportation action against law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
Announced by President Barack Obama last year, the program allows the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 to remain in the country if they have no criminal record and meet other criteria.
The agents sued ICE and the federal Department of Homeland Security over the policy in August. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Dallas is hearing arguments today on a request to block the measure.
“Officers are applying the directive to people detained in jails, not kids in school. It is now the story in the jails for aliens to use to avoid arrest and deportation,” lead plaintiff Christopher L. Crane testified in court today.
He is president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a 7,600-member federal immigration agents’ union.
The hearing comes as bipartisan groups in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives negotiate legislation that would resolve the status of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants while addressing issues of border security.
Florida Republican Marco Rubio and New York Democrat Charles Schumer are among those in the Senate negotiations, while Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez and Idaho Republican Raul Labrador are part of the House talks.
The administration’s “Deferred Action” initiative, announced in June, was created with the intent of shifting immigration agency focus toward border security and the removal of dangerous people.
“This is not amnesty, this is not immunity,” Obama said at the time. “This is not a path to citizenship, it’s not a permanent fix.” Deferral, if conferred, is valid for two years, during which the person may obtain authorization for employment, and can be renewed, according to the ICE website.
The U.S. has opposed the agents’ bid for a court order blocking the program, arguing they’ve shown no likelihood of imminent and irreparable injury, and cannot prevail on the merits.
“The challenged action here (an agency’s issuance of memoranda providing guidance on how it will prioritize its enforcement efforts) is inherently a matter committed to agency discretion by law for which this court lacks jurisdiction,” the U.S. said in a December court filing.
O’Connor in January denied a government request to throw out the case, ruling that the agents were legally qualified to pursue most of their claims.
Crane told the court today that he and his peers don’t make street arrests. Their role is to review the immigration status of people who are already in state and local custody, he said.
ICE agents are often summoned to crowded jails where detainees who may be in the country unlawfully are turned over to them. When those detainees are found to not have prior felony convictions and otherwise meet the deferred-action criteria, immigration agents are compelled to release them, Crane said.
“If they enforce immigration law, they can face disciplinary action,” including dismissal, Crane said.
Also testifying today was ICE agent and co-plaintiff Samuel Martin, who said he works in jails and prisons in El Paso, Texas. He told the court that about a third of the detainees he interviews claim to be eligible for deferred action.
“They voice it to us. They say, ‘I fall under Obama’s Dream Act,’” Martin. Aliens found to not have a felony conviction are taken at their word that they have otherwise complied with requirements for deferred action, he said.
The U.S. has not called any witnesses.
O’Connor will hear argument from lawyers for both sides this afternoon.
The case is Crane v. Napolitano, 3:12-cv-03247, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).
To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Korosec in Dallas federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at email@example.com
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