U.S. Bypasses Texas Judge in Bid to Revive Immigration Plan

The Obama administration went over the head of a federal judge who ignored the government’s Monday deadline to lift his order blocking a controversial immigration program.

White House lawyers asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Thursday to lift the Texas judge’s Feb. 16 order blocking an initiative designed to give about 5 million undocumented immigrants the right to stay in the country and obtain work permits and other benefits.

Calling U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s order “unprecedented and wrong,” White House lawyers urged the appeals court to immediately suspend it. The Texas judge’s order prevents immigration agents from focusing scarce resources on deporting criminals while leaving law-abiding undocumented immigrants with long-standing family ties in the U.S. alone, the government said. It asked for a ruling from the appeals court by March 27 in a separate filing on Thursday.

Hanen, whose courthouse sits a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas, blocked the program hours before the administration said agents would start processing applications on Feb. 18.

“The constitution does not entitle states to intrude into the uniquely federal domain of immigration enforcement,” the U.S. said.

Outside Texas

The government also asked the appeals court to consider lifting Hanen’s order outside of Texas, so the program can proceed elsewhere.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia filed court papers Thursday supporting the government’s request so the program could take effect in their boundaries.

“A single state cannot be allowed to dictate immigration policy,” the opposing states said in a filing.

On Monday, Hanen ordered administration officials to appear before him next week “prepared to fully explain” the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to grant three-year work permits and deportation waivers to 100,000 immigrants in the weeks prior to the program’s official start. Texas and 25 other states claim the Obama administration misled Hanen by telling him “nothing would happen” before mid-February.

The Obama administration and DHS said they “regret any confusion that may have resulted.”

Latest Expansion

Government lawyers were referring to the latest expansion to the immigration program and didn’t mention the processing of immigrants who qualified under a 2012 version of the plan, according to the filing.

The earlier plan wasn’t challenged in the states’ lawsuit.

Texas and its group will keep pushing against President Barack Obama’s “unilateral and lawless actions,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the litigation, said in a statement on Thursday.

The states allege that President Obama and the Homeland Security Department overstepped their authority to change U.S. immigration policy without Congressional approval. Hanen suspended the expansion of Obama’s initiative after finding the administration skipped required federal rule-making procedures. He said he’d rule on the states’ constitutional challenge after a trial.

The case is Texas v. U.S.; 1:14-254; U.S. District Court; Southern District of Texas (Brownsville).

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