No Contempt Charges for Immigration Mix-Up

     BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – A Texas federal judge declined to file contempt charges against Obama administration officials after the Department of Homeland Security mistakenly issued amnesty work permits to some 2,500 immigrants against his injunction.
     U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, however, did contemplate issuing sanctions for violating his Feb. 16 order that halted the administration’s sweeping new immigration policy.
     Justice Department attorneys were in Hanen’s Brownsville, Texas courtroom Wednesday to convince him that the government should not face punishment and is in compliance. The judge had previously excused top Homeland Security officials from personally appearing.
     “We don’t believe a sanction is appropriate, but the states need to prove how they will suffer harm, and we have provided the information as requested to allow the states to make that conclusion,” government attorney Jennifer Ricketts said. “We apologize for the miscommunication that was unintended. We were not trying to hide anything from the court.”
     Hanen issued an injunction against Homeland Security’s expanded amnesty programs on Feb. 16, putting an estimated five million immigrants who could qualify in limbo. He also drew criticism from immigrant advocates who say he was handpicked for the case by 26 Republican-led states who sued over the immigration policies.
     The judge has remained openly critical of Obama’s immigration policies and, after growing frustrated with the administration’s attorneys at the February hearing, asked if he can “trust what the president says.”
     On Wednesday, Hanen asked Justice Department attorney Jim Gilligan to clear up the confusion on any unrecovered permits administered after the court halted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application process.
     “Of the original 2,500 permits distributed after the injunction, you almost have everything resolved and recovered, except 11 individuals?” Hanen asked.
     “As of yesterday, as we stated in the supplemental findings, only 11 permits are left unrecovered versus the 22 individuals as represented on July 31 findings,” Gilligan replied.
     Gilligan laid out a case-by-case tracking of the 11 individuals and assured the court that the government remains aggressive in its attempt to retrieve those last permits. He said it intends to use the federal computer database system to invalidate the rest.
     The attorney also revealed that, during recovery efforts, a Nebraska center for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services experienced an electronic error that wrongly distributed work permits to 53 individuals. He said officials were able to recover all of the permits and correct the database system error.
     Gilligan assured Hanen that it won’t happen again.
     Angela Colmenero, Texas’s lead attorney, adamantly asked for full compliance.
     “We feel at this point, we should be insured with full compliance after six months and want to know the government is complying with the court’s injunction and intend to do fact checks on the data in the system,” Colmenero said.
     Ricketts pointed out that they did comply with the order by providing the states with access to the Homeland Security system on important information regarding the 108,000 applicants, insisting that the data was as updated as possible.
     Hanen requested a status report before Sept. 18 and another on May 16, 2016, to monitor if the Obama administration is complying with the injunction.
     In May, the Fifth Circuit refused to lift Hanen’s injunction blocking the deferred deportation program. In a 2-1 ruling, the New Orleans-based appellate court found that Texas has standing to sue the federal government because the state will bear the cost of issuing drivers licenses’ to qualifying immigrants.
     Hanen will decide if he wants to open the case up to discovery or do nothing. He said he will sign a protective order allowing states access to Citizenship and Immigration Services and Homeland Security records.
     The Fifth Circuit heard arguments in July for overturning Hansen’s order, in a bid to start the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program before the end of Obama’s second term, but it has yet to make a decision.

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