HOUSTON (CN) – Political and legal pressure is building rapidly on a federal injunction that took effect this week, halting thousands of immigrants from applying for legal status. Lawyers and law professors are pushing for reversal of the ruling, saying Republican governors in effect picked their judge who had already tipped his hand.
“Random?” scoffed University of Houston law professor Michael Olivas. “This is the opposite of random. Nothing about this is random, including the timing. You look up how many judges there are in Brownsville and you’ll see why they filed it there.”
Judicial assignments are generally made through a random process to ensure impartiality but in a small federal court there a small number of judges. Olivas said that the Republican governors picked the federal court in Brownsville for a reason, and for their purposes, picked well.
There is only one federal judge in the Brownsville courthouse, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen.
Late Monday, he granted 26 Republican-led states an injunction late Monday against the president’s new immigration guidelines that were set to take effect this week and would have provided amnesty for the rest of his term to thousands of residents living and working in the U.S. without papers.
Hanen’s secretary, Adalia Mora, said the judge does not comment on ongoing litigation, but he may be open to discuss the case once it’s resolved.
The Justice Department said it will appeal the ruling which has brought intense political maneuvering and international news coverage.
Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, Mexico’s consul in Brownsville, said that Mexico’s government “regrets” Hanen’s decision.
“We reiterate that these programs are a fair remedy for millions of families and have the potential to strengthen the important contributions that Mexican immigrants make to the American economy and society,” Quilantán said.
In her Houston law office, immigration attorney Ruby Powers said she is telling her clients to keep gathering qualifying documents, such as birth certificates and school records, in hopes that the 5th Circuit will lift the injunction.
“What some people thought was a form of relief in the near future is now on hold. So it’s scary. I’m trying to believe that it’s going to be OK for everybody,” Powers said.
Olivas at the University of Houston said the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is likely to reverse the district court judge.
“I think the 5th Circuit, which has historically backed administrative action, is going to put him in his place,” Olivas said.
Hanen is a George W. Bush nominee who has been critical of the Obama administration’s immigration policies.
Olivas said Hanen should have recused himself from the case because he has spoken publicly about it.
The professor said that Obama has deported 400,000 people every year of his presidency, more than any of his predecessors, despite the alleged concerns of his critics, such as Sen. Ted Cruz R-Texas, who called Obama’s new guidelines “lawless amnesty.”
In the wake of Hanen’s ruling, a game of chicken is playing out in Congress, with Republicans refusing to pass a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security unless funding for DACA and DAPA are stripped from it.
Homeland Security funding will expire on Feb. 27 without congressional action.
Cruz rubbed Hanen’s ruling in the face of Senate Democrats in a statement this week.
“At a time when we face grave national security threats, at home and abroad, it is the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to block this funding in an extreme attempt to save Obama’s amnesty, which a federal judge has just declared illegal,” Cruz said.
But Olivas said the programs are “funded completely out of fees and not out of appropriations.”
He said that comprehensive immigration reform is the only solution to these partisan squabbles, and that Republicans who say no immigration reform is possible until the United States secures its Southern border are unrealistic.
“We can’t seal the border,” Olivas said. “That’s like saying, ‘Let’s put a dome over the United States so nothing falls on us.’
“You can’t do that. So let’s agree on what the metrics are. How many people have been stopped? How many people have been removed? Are those the measures that people would accept? The Republicans won’t accept it.
“Until we agree on the basic arithmetic, they’re not going to move. But I don’t think it’s because of the arithmetic I think it’s because they want to somehow claim higher ground for national security. But what they’re doing is jeopardizing national security by making the funding uncertain for the DHS.”
Under the immigration regulations now on hold, undocumented residents would have received amnesty for the rest of Obama’s term, if they have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and entered as children or are parents of children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Four million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States would be eligible to apply for amnesty under the programs, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA).
Those who qualify may be eligible for federal employment authorization, allowing them to get a Social Security card and a state driver’s license.
Supporters say the programs will free millions of people from fear of deportation, which will improve public safety by making them more willing to cooperate with police.
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