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Federal judge blocks Obama's immigration action

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Federal judge blocks Obama's immigration action

  • In January, legal clinic volunteer Myrna Velasco helped Karina Monter, Jocelyn Carino and Raul Carino organize documents for their application to the deferred action program, which was delayed by a federal judge Monday.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comIn January, legal clinic volunteer Myrna Velasco helped Karina Monter, Jocelyn Carino and Raul Carino organize documents for their application to the deferred action program, which was delayed by a federal judge Monday.

A federal judge has ordered a halt to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, granting a temporary injunction while a lawsuit filed by Texas and joined by Arizona and 25 other states moves forward. 

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen signed the order late Monday night, preventing the Department of Homeland Security and its agencies from “implementing any and all aspects or phases” of two programs announced by the president in November. 

The first was an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives work permits to young people who arrived in the United States as children, and the second allowed parents to seek their own work permits and protection from deportation.

The expanded DACA program was set to begin taking applications this week. Unless a stay is issued, the injunction could keep federal officials from moving forward.

"This injunction makes it clear that the president is not a law unto himself, and must work with our elected leaders in Congress and satisfy the courts in a fashion our Founding Fathers envisioned," said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement from his office.

"I strongly support the recent federal district court decision finding that President Obama exceeded his authority under the law with his latest executive order on immigration," said U.S. Sen. John McCain on Tuesday morning.

“While it is disappointing to see President Obama’s executive actions delayed by a lawsuit that amounts to nothing more than a political stunt, I remain heartened that relief will come to those struggling through our broken immigration system," said U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva in a Tuesday-afternoon news release.

Tuesday evening, U.S. Rep. Martha McSally released a statement on the injunction, saying that "the president himself has already said he doesn't have the authority to unilaterally change immigration laws, and today's (sic) ruling confirms that. But it doesn't change the fact that we have a broken immigration system and an unsecure border that's putting Southern Arizonans at risk."

Immigration activists, including Marielena Hincapié of the National Immigration Law Center., said the injunction is "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," Hincapié said.

"Executive action protecting immigrant youth and parents is solid. Judge Hanen’s ruling is not permanent and we are confident that it will be repealed in a higher court," said Cristina Jimenez of United We Dream.

"This is a temporary ruling in a case brought by conservatives who are using the courts to play anti-immigration politics," said Ben Monterroso of Mi Familia Vota in a Wednesday-morning news release. "But this ruling out of Texas will be appealed and we are confident we will win this case because the president’s legal authority to offer immigration relief has already been upheld in other courts."

On Nov. 20, Obama announced new policies on immigration that would allow many in the country illegally to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law." 

The actions would grant work permits and deportation relief for those who arrived in the United States before 2010 and were under 16, as well as parents who arrived before 2010 and have at least one child who is a citizen or legal resident. 

Along with the changes, the president also announced an end to the immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, and a change in deportation priorities with a greater focus on certain classes of criminals. 

The first applications for childhood arrivals under the expanded program, were due to be accepted Wednesday, however, those won't start until further notice, leaving millions of immigrants vulnerable to deportation. 

This change also could shift two of Tucson's sanctuary cases and could increase the likelihood that Rosa Robles Loreto, who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church for more than six months, might have to remain there. 

Analysis by the Pew Research Center estimates that the president's executive actions would affect up to 3.9 million people. 

The Migration Policy Institute estimated that in Arizona the program for childhood arrivals would impact 39,000 people, while the program for parents would affect at least 97,000, or nearly half of the state's total unauthorized population. 

In his 123-page opinion, Hanen agreed that the states had successfully argued that they held standing to bring their lawsuit while Obama administrations lawyers had failed to follow administrative procedures to create the executive actions. 

Lawyers for the administration said the president and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had legal authority to decide how to enforce immigration laws, however, Hanen sided with the states that argued that the new laws would impose huge new costs. 

"The court finds that the government’s failure to secure the border has exacerbated illegal immigration into this country," Hanen wrote. "Further, the record supports the finding that this lack of enforcement, combined with the country’s high rate of illegal immigration, significantly drains the states’ resources."

Lawyers for Texas argued that the expansion of DAPA, for example would cost the state "several million" because it would be forced to provide up to 500,000 new driver's licenses. Hanen referred to Arizona's own attempt to keep DACA recipients from getting licenses, which ultimately went to the Supreme Court and was knocked down. 

The president's executive actions have been controversial from the start. On Dec. 3, Texas initiated the lawsuit and 26 states have joined in, mostly through state attorney general offices. 

Arizona's newly-minted attorney general jumped into the fray, with Mark Brnovich writing on Feb. 4 that he wanted to spend $1 million to create a "Federalism Unit" that would be responsible for handling the case against DACA and continue the state's fight over SB 1070. 

Three U.S. senators and 65 members of the House also joined the effort to oppose the president. 

However, 12 states and the District of Columbia have written their own briefs in support of Obama's actions. 

Hanen scheduled a conference with the parties on Feb. 27 and the case will then move to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. 

That conference comes just as the Department of Homeland Security will run out of money — its budget has been held up in Congress over the immigration issue. 

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