Ten U.S. immigration agents lost a challenge to an Obama administration effort to defer deportation of some people who are in the country illegally after a judge said civil-service laws left him unable to rule.
The agents contended that the plan announced in June 2012 was unlawful and placed them in the untenable position of violating their sworn duty to uphold federal law by complying with the directive or facing discipline for failing to do so.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Dallas today dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that federal civil-service laws deprive him of jurisdiction over what the administration maintained was an employment dispute.
“Congress has determined that this court does not have jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ disputes,” the judge said. Still, O’Connor maintained the agents are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the administration’s directive is contrary to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.
The directive gives agents the ability to defer action on people unlawfully in the U.S. if they came to the country under the age of 16, are in school or have obtained a high school diploma, haven’t been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors, and aren’t a threat to public safety or national security.
The “Deferred Action” initiative was created to shift immigration agency focus toward border security and the removal of dangerous people.
“This is not amnesty, this is not immunity,” Obama said when the plan was announced. “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, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. The deferral can be renewed.
While O’Connor concluded after an April hearing that the Department of Homeland Security didn’t have the discretion to refuse to initiate deportation proceedings, he refrained from ruling on the agents’ request for injunctive relief, ordering an additional round of briefing.
The case was filed by attorney Kris Kobach, who is also Kansas Secretary of State and a national Republican Party adviser. Lead plaintiff Christopher L. Crane is president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a 7,600-member federal immigration agents’ union.
“The judge reiterated in no uncertain terms that the Obama administration’s directive does violate federal law,” Kobach said today in a phone interview. “The question now is: What is the appropriate forum for reaching a resolution on the matter?”
Kobach said he and his clients are considering the ruling and deciding what course of action to take.
The case is Crane v. Napolitano, 3:12-cv-03247, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).