BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) - The U.S. government "is abdicating its statutory duties" to enforce immigration law, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, refusing to lift his injunction against President Obama's immigrant-amnesty initiatives.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen surprised no one with his refusal to stay the injunction that has prevented millions of undocumented immigrants from applying for lawful presence in the United States.
The Justice Department made the same request to the 5th Circuit and a hearing is set before the appellate court in New Orleans on April 17.
In asking Hanen to stay the injunction, the government said that the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration laws, will suffer the "irreparable harm" of not being able to implement a vital part of an enforcement strategy meant to focus limited resources on "threats to public safety, national security risks, and recent border crossers."
The government also cited the harm done to immigrants who could qualify for amnesty but must continue to live in fear of deportation or having family members deported.
Hanen was unmoved. He stated in the order that DHS has always had the right to issue documents to undocumented immigrants that designate them as "low-priority enforcement targets" and said his injunction does not change that.
"Counsel for the government explained that there might be a better turnout for this effort, however, if the DHS provided incentives. While the wisdom and legality of incentivizing illegal immigrants to remain in the country illegally may or may not be debated at trial, what this revelation makes abundantly clear is that the government has a workable and legal alternative. The states have no such alternative," Hanen wrote.
The Justice Department maintains that Hanen erred by not dismissing the case and by issuing the injunction, because the amnesty programs are an "exercise of prosecutorial discretion" by DHS that states cannot challenge.
Twenty six Republican-controlled states, led by Texas, sued the United States in December, claiming Obama's executive orders infringe on powers reserved for Congress.
Hanen agreed with Texas' contention that it has standing to bring the lawsuit because the Obama administration has abdicated its duty to enforce parts of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
Hanen cited a town hall meeting that Obama held in Miami in February, where the president said that if an Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol agent does not follow the new policies and decides to deport someone who qualifies for legal status, the agent will face consequences.
"In the U.S. military, when you get an order, you're expected to follow it. It doesn't mean that everybody follows the order. If they don't, they've got a problem. And the same is going to be true with respect to the policies that we're putting forward," Obama said at the meeting, as cited in Hanen's ruling.
Hanen found the president's statements as evidence he is abdicating enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.
Texas also claims Obama violated the Administrative Procedure Act by making a substantive change to the law without publishing the proposals in the Federal Register and seeking public comment.
Hanen agreed, and stated essentially that the amnesty programs turn immigration enforcement on its head and makes federal agents out as bad guys for trying to enforce the law.
"Instead of removing individuals who are violating the INA, the new program rewards them with legal presence and a whole host of benefits. Yet, while the law-breaker is rewarded, any officer or agent who attempts to enforce the law as enacted will be made to suffer the consequences," Hanen wrote in the 15-page order.
"This is a sea-change under anyone's definition: the law-breaker receives a myriad of benefits and the law enforcement officer suffers adverse ramifications."
Critics of the lawsuit claim that Texas handpicked Hanen to hear the case because of his public statements bashing Obama's immigration policies.
The new programs would suspend deportation for three years of immigrants whose parents brought them here as children, and of parents of U.S. citizens or lawful residents, if they can pass background checks and meet other qualifications, with a goal of keeping law-abiding families together.
Obama announced the policies in November. They were set to take effect on Feb. 18 and in mid-May until Hanen blocked them.Follow @@cam_langford
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