A Texas judge’s order forced the Obama administration to delay expanding a program for child immigrants and emboldened lawmakers fighting the president’s bid to shield 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
President Barack Obama vowed to appeal the order by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, and said in the meantime the U.S. won’t be taking some new applications for deferred deportation from immigrants brought to the country as children. He said the White House would prevail in court.
“The law is on our side and history is on our side,” Obama told reporters at the White House.
Opponents of Obama’s executive action on immigration found vindication in the order.
The judge’s opinion “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,” Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in a statement. “The fight to reverse the president’s unconstitutional overreach is not over.”
The order added fuel to a long-running battle between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on immigration and has left funding for the Homeland Security Department hanging in the balance.
It was issued as Republicans are attempting to use a Department of Homeland Security spending bill to reverse Obama’s orders. Democrats have maintained a united front against that move, and Obama has said he would veto any legislative attempt to overturn his policy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, sought to put pressure on Democratic senators.
“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,” he said in a statement.
At least three of the Senate Democrats who Republicans are trying to get to switch their votes aren’t changing their positions. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri’s spokeswoman, Sara Feldman, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia’s aide, Katie Longo, said the lawmakers continue to believe Congress should pass a “clean” bill to fund the agency and then debate immigration issues separately.
Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota holds the same view, said a congressional aide who sought anonymity.
Homeland Security, which oversees immigration enforcement, would face a shutdown of non-essential operations if Congress doesn’t agree on a spending bill before funding ends Feb. 27.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said on the “Fox News Sunday” program that he’s prepared to let homeland security funding lapse if the Senate doesn’t act on the House bill.
While Republicans say the ruling bolsters their case, it could also help break the stalemate if both sides agree to pass a short-term measure while they await the outcome of the White House appeal. Hanen found that Texas, which sued the administration along with 25 states, had satisfied the requirements to bring a lawsuit.
Congress has for years been unable to agree on a revised law to address an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Obama said he acted because the House has refused to take up a bipartisan measure passed by the Senate in 2013 that would create a path to citizenship for many of those immigrants.
“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.”
The White House will decide “within the next couple of days” whether to seek an emergency stay that would put Hanen’s order on hold and allow the immigration policies to resume, Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told reporters today on a phone call.
As the Homeland Security Department delays accepting applications from some undocumented immigrants, the White House is looking at its options for its next move, she said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his agency retains the authority to set priorities regarding which undocumented immigrants should be removed from the U.S.
Obama said in November he would focus Homeland Security agency resources on deporting violent criminals while protecting other undocumented immigrants from deportation. His action 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.
The first part of Obama’s directive, 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 said the judge based his decision on the fact that the administration bypassed a formal public comment requirement. They are optimistic the orders will stand because Obama can take that step, said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
“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,” added 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.”
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a vocal Republican critic of Obama’s immigration policy, called the ruling a “major turning point in the fight to stop Obama’s lawless amnesty.”
“It is the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to block this funding in an extreme attempt to save Obama’s amnesty, which a federal judge has just declared illegal,” he said.
The Senate has voted three times and failed to advance the House-passed bill. McConnell has scheduled another vote for Feb. 23, when Congress returns from a one-week recess.
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, has said such a ruling could also help defuse the standoff.
The case is State of Texas, v. United States of America, 14-cv-00254, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Brownsville).