U.S. officials must defend the administration in person before a judge in Texas who threatened to hold the government in contempt for failing to fully block President Barack Obama’s immigration initiative.
Jeh Johnson, the U.S. homeland security chief, won’t need to be among them, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville ruled Tuesday. He previously said Johnson must appear personally.
White House lawyers asked to cancel the Aug. 19 hearing after officials detailed the agency’s extensive efforts to recover 2,500 immigrant work permits mistakenly issued after the judge ordered the program halted in February.
Hanen excused the most senior officials from personally attending but said he still wants to hear the government’s plan for recovering the remaining improperly issued credentials “in the very near future.”
Texas and 25 other states are suing to overturn Obama’s unilateral change to U.S. immigration policy, announced in November. The initiative is designed to shelter 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and provide them with three-year work permits.
To qualify for the program, immigrants must have lived in the U.S. for at least five years and be the parents of an American citizen or have been brought here as children themselves. They must also pass a criminal background check.
Hanen, whose courthouse sits a mile from the Mexican border, warned officials he’ll find them in contempt if they fail to move quickly enough to recover all the mistakenly issued credentials or misled him about those efforts.
The U.S. said this month it has reclaimed all but 22 of the 2,500 work permits at issue and corrected federal computer databases to invalidate the rest.
Texas has pressed Hanen to require the government to recover 108,000 additional three-year work permits issued before Hanen’s standstill order went into effect.
To date, the Obama administration hasn’t explained efforts to reclaim those papers. Federal agents went door to door to recover the other permits from immigrants who failed to turn them in.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans is considering a request by White House lawyers to throw out Hanen’s order temporarily blocking the immigration reform so it can be implemented before Obama leaves office.
Hanen hasn’t scheduled a trial on the states’ main challenge to the president’s constitutional authority to change immigration policy without the approval of Congress or the courts.
The case is Texas v. U.S., 1:14-00254, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Brownsville).