A federal judge in Texas dealt a significant blow to President Barack Obama’s attempt to make immigration reform an enduring part of his legacy – and emboldened Republicans in Congress.
U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen temporarily blocked the President’s controversial executive actions on immigration—announced in November—that were meant to ease the deportation threats to millions of eligible immigrants. The move jolted an administration that had planned to move forward with some of Obama’s planned immigration changes on Wednesday.
Perhaps more importantly, the ruling chips away at Obama’s confident proclamation that he has broad powers as President to set priorities in enforcing immigration laws.
Hanen did not rule on the constitutional merits of the case challenged by Texas and 25 other states. But he said that Texas was able to demonstrate an injury sufficient to give it standing to sue. He also said that the administration had likely failed to comply with procedures for the way federal agencies can establish regulations.
“In laymen’s terms, the district court held that the Obama administration didn’t give the public enough warning about the new policy, or a period to object to it before implementing it, and so violated statutory rules governing such administrative processes,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a Professor of Law at American University Washington College of law and a CNN analyst.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he “strongly” disagrees with the decision but would comply.
Tuesday’s events mean the federal government will suspend plans to accept requests for a program aimed at easing deportation restrictions on the parents of legal residents. The government will also stand down on plans – set to take effect on Wednesday – that would expand another program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows some undocumented children into the country.
Ultimately, some immigrants who were hopeful that they could come forward—as early as tomorrow— will now remain in a holding pattern until the appeals process plays out.
“We’ve hit a speed bump on the road to the implementation of these programs,” said Karin Tumlin of Managing Attorney of the National Immigration Law Center. But she urged eligible immigrants to “stay the course, get their documents read, prepare to apply, because the programs will open their doors eventually.”
Obama said Tuesday he’s confident that the Texas court’s injunction will ultimately be overruled, and is preparing to implement the order under that assumption.
“The Department of Homeland Security will continue with the planning because we want to make sure that as soon as these legal issues get resolved — which I anticipate they will, in our favor — that we are ready to go,” he told reporters.
Immigration law expert Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell School of Law, believes Obama is likely to prevail.
“Despite the anti-immgration rhetoric in the judge’s 123-page opinion, the temporary injunction itself is narrow, focusing on the administration’s alleged failure to follow proper procedures,” he said.
Critics of the programs praised the Court ruling. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the President’s controversial action was both “unilateral and unconstitutional, and was an affront to everyone pursuing a life of freedom an opportunity in America the right way.”
Republicans say the ruling has united and emboldened them to stand firmly by their strategy of tying funding for the homeland security agency to efforts to kill Obama’s executive action, and urged Senate Democrats who have blocked those efforts to heed the ruling.
“Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security department,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.
Tuesday’s ruling is preliminary, and the programs are blocked pending trial, or action by a federal appeals court or the Supreme Court.