Federal judge in Texas places injunction on Obama immigration plan

A federal judge in Texas has halted implementation of President Obama's immigration policies that could allow up to 5 million people to apply for work permits and live without the fear of deportation. (Photo of a Florida protest by quite peculiar via Flickr.)

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

Immigration rights groups are slamming the ruling by a federal judge in Texas who has ordered a preliminary injunction against a set of immigration policy changes put forth by the Obama administration in an executive order last year.

In a ruling handed down late Monday, Judge Andrew Hanen of the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas said that the administration's attempt to expand protections against deportation for certain segments of the immigrant population would cause "dramatic and irreparable injuries" to the 26 states who joined together in a lawsuit against the president's action.

The White House vowed to appeal Hansen's decision, likely to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, as both the Justice Department and supporters of the president's measures said the legal arguments against are simply cover for political opposition to any kind of immigration reform.

"The district court's decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision," a statement from the White House said.

According to the Associated Press:

The first of Obama's orders — to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — was set to start taking effect Wednesday. The other major part of Obama's order, which extends deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years, was not expected to begin until May 19.

Joaquin Guerra, political director of Texas Organizing Project, called the ruling a "temporary setback."

"We will continue getting immigrants ready to apply for administrative relief," he said in a statement.

The coalition of states, led by Texas and made up of mostly conservative states in the South and Midwest, argues that Obama has violated the "Take Care Clause" of the U.S. Constitution, which they say limits the scope of presidential power. They also say the order will force increased investment in law enforcement, health care and education.

According to the complaint filed by the 26 states, "This lawsuit is not about immigration. It is about the rule of law, presidential power, and the structural limits of the U.S. Constitution."

However, in a statement made to Reuters, Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council, said her group believes the decision in Texas is "more about politics than law."

"We firmly believe that these programs will be implemented," Crow added, "and whether it's now or several months from now, we have no question that the president was well within the bounds of his executive authority."

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, expressed disappointment, but also described the ruling as a short-term roadblock for the president's plan.

Judge Hansen's ruling, Hincapié said, puts the court "far outside the legal mainstream and away from public opinion, which supports the step President Obama took toward finally beginning to fix our dysfunctional immigration system." Her statement continued:

Questions about the legality of President Obama's actions on immigration have already been addressed in other courts, and state claims like the ones upheld today have already been rejected. Today's decision overlooked sound legal reasoning and precedent, and, if not reversed, threatens to keep millions of aspiring Americans from coming forward to apply for much-needed reprieves from deportation and work authorization.

Fortunately, this decision represents only a temporary setback. We urge the Department of Justice to act swiftly to ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse this court's decision to block the immigration initiatives. Failure to do so will confuse potentially eligible immigrants and undermine the success of these initiatives.

Opponents' declarations of victory today are premature. We are confident that the courts will ultimately side with the scores of legal experts, state leaders, city officials, and law enforcement leaders who say that these immigration initiatives are both in full compliance with law and deeply beneficial to our communities, society, and country. In the meantime, we will only strengthen our resolve to prepare for the moment when immigrant families can come forward and apply for the opportunity to contribute more fully to the country they have made their home.

This decision will undoubtedly raise concerns for immigrant communities anxiously awaiting the day they can come out of the shadows. They should continue preparing for implementation by gathering documents that serve as proof of their eligibility, saving money for application expenses, and staying informed. It won’t be long before eligible immigrants will be able to live without the fear of deportation while working lawfully and contributing to their families and communities. That will be a good day for our country.