BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – The federal judge presiding over the Texas-led challenge to President Obama’s immigrant amnesty programs asked a Justice Department attorney Thursday, “Can I trust what the president says?”
It was a fair question from U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, after the Justice Department revealed earlier this month that U.S. Customs and Immigration Services had extended lawful presence rights from two to three years for 100,000 undocumented immigrants after telling the judge USCIS would not process any applications for such extensions until March 4.
“You were the one who said nothing would happen until March 4. I look like an idiot,” Hanen told federal attorney Kathleen Hartnett at a hearing on Thursday.
Hartnett apologized to Hanen for any confusion and assured him the government strives for accuracy. “You can rely on the Justice Department,” she said.
Hanen issued an injunction against the Department of Homeland Security’s expanded amnesty programs on Feb. 16, putting the estimated 5 million immigrants who could qualify in limbo and drawing condemnation from immigrant advocates who claim he was handpicked for the case by the 26 Republican-led states who sued over the policies.
Hanen has been openly critical of Obama’s immigration policies.
The Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, and last November announced it would be modified to increase the number of people eligible.
The original DACA program allows immigrants who came to the United States as children, lived here since June 15, 2007, went to school, have not committed serious crimes, and are under 31 years of age to apply for legal status and federal work permits.
The administration expanded DACA in November 2014 by removing the age cap, pushing up the date on which immigrants must have lived in the United States to Jan. 1, 2010 and extending the legal status of those who qualify from two to three years.
In his speech announcing the November changes to DACA, Obama unveiled Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would make some parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents eligible to apply for the right to live in the United States without fear of deportation and for federal work permits.
Following the Justice Department’s confession about the 100,000 immigrants, Texas filed a motion for early discovery. Thursday’s hearing focused on that motion.
With supporters of DACA and DAPA shouting “Si se puede,” and holding signs stating “We Work Hard,” “We Pay Taxes” and “We Are Good For the Economy” outside the Brownsville Federal Building and Courthouse, Hanen presided over a one-hour hearing there.
Texas Assistant Attorney General Angela Colmenero came up to bat first and she had some accusatory words for the Feds.
“Defendants made representations to the status quo and assured the court that they would not make any decisions until March 4, 2015, but this did not happen,” she said.
“Defendants were actively moving forward with the applications process and no notice was provided to plaintiffs regarding the change to the status quo.”
Colmenero also went after the merits of modified DACA, claiming it will motivate new immigrants to enter the country illegally and that the “expansion from two years to three years would cause harm by a wave of immigrants flooding our borders.”
Hanen was understandably weary of government attorney Kathleen Hartnett, who had promised no modified DACA applications would be processed until March 4 at the Jan. 15 hearing.
“Can I trust what you say? Can I trust what the president says? It’s an easy question, yes or no?” he asked.
“Yes your honor, you can,” Hartnett said.
At the close she told Hanen the government is in the process of changing the 55 three-year DACA cards that went out after the injunction back to two years, and that anybody who applied for DACA before Nov. 24, 2014 was given the extension of legal status to three years.
Hanen said he “will be making a prompt ruling” on the plaintiffs’ motion for expedited discovery.
The Justice Department appealed to the 5th Circuit shortly after Hanen issued his injunction. The government also asked that court for an emergency stay of the injunction in a filing this past Friday.
The New Orleans-based appellate court gave the plaintiffs until March 23 to reply.
Numerous parties from both sides of the issue have weighed in on the case.
The attorneys general for the Democrat-led states of Washington, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia asked the 5th Circuit for permission to file a friend of the court brief in support of Obama’s policies on Tuesday.
The states claim Hanen erred by deciding that Texas has standing to bring the lawsuit because they will bear the costs of processing driver’s license applications for qualifying immigrants.
“A single state cannot dictate national immigration policy, yet that is what the district court allowed here. Relying entirely on Texas’s speculative claims, the district court enjoined vital immigration reforms nationwide,” wrote Noah Purcell, Washington state’s solicitor general.
Texas was the only state of the 26 plaintiffs to present evidence of how the policies would allegedly harm them. Purcell played that up in the brief.
“At the very least, this court should stay the order outside Texas, as no other state has presented any evidence that it will suffer the irreparable injury needed to justify injunctive relief,” he wrote.
The blue states added that Obama’s policies should go into effect because they will be good for all state economies.
“Moving these people out of the shadows and into the legal workforce is estimated to increase Washington’s tax revenues by $57 million over the next five years. California’s tax revenues are estimated to grow by $904 million over the next five years, with an anticipated 1,214,000 people eligible for deferred immigration action. The tax consequences for the plaintiff states are also positive,” Purcell wrote.
“For example, if the estimated 594,000 undocumented immigrants eligible for deferred action in Texas receive temporary work permits, it will lead to an estimated $338 million increase in the State tax base over five years,” he added.
Not to be outdone by proponents of the policies, the American Center for Law & Justice, a Christian conservative law firm based in Washington, D.C., asked the 5th Circuit on Wednesday for permission to chime in with its own amicus brief.
The firm’s chief counsel Jay Sekulow repeated what the plaintiffs have said all along: that Obama’s policy changes exceeded his authority and trampled “Congress’s exclusive authority over immigration.”
While Sekulow acknowledges that the Homeland Security Act makes the Department of Homeland Security’s secretary responsible for immigration enforcement policies, he believes Obama’s directives go beyond.
“The removal of unlawful aliens carries enormous importance to the overall statutory scheme, but the DHS directive does not just articulate priorities for removal, it grants legal benefits on a categorical basis to current illegal aliens. By granting illegal aliens lawful presence during the deferred period, appellants violate the express and implied intent of Congress,” he wrote.
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