A South Texas federal judge has put on hold President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders.
District Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision on February 16 comes after a hearing in Brownsville in January and temporarily blocks Barack Obama’s orders that could spare as many as five million people who are in the US illegally from deportation.
Andrew Hanen wrote in a memorandum accompanying his order that the lawsuit should go forward and that without a preliminary injunction the states will “suffer irreparable harm in this case.”
“The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle,” he wrote, adding that he agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that legalizing the presence of millions of people is a “virtually irreversible” action.
The White House in a statement on February 17 defended the executive orders issued in November as within the president’s legal authority, saying that the US Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can set priorities in enforcing immigration laws.
“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,” the statement said. An appeal would be heard by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The first of Barack Obama’s orders – to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the US illegally as children – was set to start taking effect on February 18. The other major part of Barack Obama’s order, which extends deportation protections to parents of US 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 President Barack Obama has violated the “Take Care Clause” of the US 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.
In their request for the injunction, the coalition said it was necessary because it would be “difficult or impossible to undo the President’s lawlessness after the Defendants start granting applications for deferred action.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the decision a “victory for the rule of law in America” in a statement late Monday.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who as the state’s former attorney general led the state into the lawsuit, said Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision “rightly stops the President’s overreach in its tracks”.
Judge Andrew Hanen, who’s been on the federal court since 2002 after being nominated by President George W. Bush, regularly handles border cases but wasn’t known for being outspoken on immigration until a 2013 case.
Congressional Republicans have vowed to block Barack Obama’s actions by cutting off Homeland Security Department spending for the program.
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