02:29 - Source: CNN
Obama's immigration reform 'commonsense'

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A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Tuesday that President Barack Obama's immigration action is unconstitutional

It's not clear the judge's ruling, which came in a criminal case, will have any immediate impact on the implementation of Obama's policies

Washington CNN —  

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s move to halt deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants violates the Constitution – but it’s not clear that the ruling will have any immediate impact.

Pittsburgh-based U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab, a George W. Bush appointee, became the first judge to rule on the legality of Obama’s executive overhaul of immigration rules when he issued his unusual opinion in a criminal case.

The Justice Department shot back that the judge was “flatly wrong” and his ruling wouldn’t halt the implementation of Obama’s immigration policies.

The decision – which came in a criminal case against Honduran immigrant Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, who’d been deported before, returned to the United States and faced charges of unlawful re-entry after a drunk driving arrest – was unexpected, and is unrelated to the legal challenge dozens of states have launched against Obama’s move.

READ: Jeb Bush: ‘no problems’ defending expanded immigration

Prosecutors in the case argued that Obama’s immigration policies were only meant to apply to civil proceedings, and don’t have any impact on criminal proceedings like what Juarez-Escobar faced.

Still, Schwab said in his 38-page ruling that Juarez-Escobar could have benefited under Obama’s action to halt deportations for some undocumented immigrants.

Obama’s action violates the Constitution’s separation of powers and its “take care clause,” Schwab said.

He wrote that Obama’s action “goes beyond prosecutorial discretion because: (a) it provides for a systematic and rigid process by which a broad group of individuals will be treated differently than others based upon arbitrary classifications, rather than case-by-case examination; and (b) it allows undocumented immigrants, who fall within these broad categories, to obtain substantive rights.”

The judge also quoted several of Obama’s statements, asserting that, prior to issuing his executive action in November, the President personally considered such a move beyond his authority.

Schwab said Juarez-Escobar didn’t fall within any of the priority categories Obama identified for deportation, so it’s not clear that removing him from the country would be a priority – potentially blurring the lines between civil and criminal proceedings.

The Justice Department blasted the opinion, with a spokesperson saying it was “unfounded and the court had no basis to issue such an order.”

“No party in the case challenged the constitutionality of the immigration-related executive actions and the department’s filing made it clear that the executive actions did not apply to the criminal matter before the court,” the spokesperson said. “Moreover, the court’s analysis of the legality of the executive actions is flatly wrong. We will respond to the court’s decision at the appropriate time.”

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