Texas Judge Halts Sanctions Against DOJ

     BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) — The federal judge who ordered Justice Department attorneys to take ethics classes in the feud over President Barack Obama’s embattled immigration policies stayed the order Tuesday.
     At a hearing Tuesday morning in his Brownsville courtroom, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said he wants input from the feds on what the appropriate sanctions should be for the Justice Department.
     Hanen says that two Justice Department attorneys, who aren’t explicitly named as the perpetrators in the case record, lied to him about the rollout of Obama’s immigration policy changes.
     In a motion to stay the sanctions, the government balked at Hanen’s May 19 order for all Justice Department attorneys practicing in state or federal court in 26 states to take three hours of annual ethics training for five years, classes the government claims could cost it $8 million.
     Hanen stayed the sanctions Tuesday and all proceedings on the merits pending the outcome of an Aug. 22 hearing in his courtroom.
     The case is Texas, et al. v United States in which a Texas-led group of 26 states sued the government to block two programs designed to give otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants the chance to be lawfully present in the United States for renewable three-year terms and apply for federal work permits.
     The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in April and is now considering whether to lift an injunction Hanen placed on the programs in February 2015. A decision is expected later this month.
     At Tuesday’s hearing, Hanen said regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, even if it makes a decision on the merits that settles the case, the August hearing will be held to address the sanctions.
     Justice Department attorney James Gilligan maintained at Tuesday’s hearing that his colleagues, who are no longer assigned to the case, didn’t intentionally lie to Hanen.
     “There is not clear and convincing evidence to support the conclusion that the misstatements that were made were a product of deceit, rather than just misrepresentations,” Gilligan told Hanen.
     But Hanen refused to dial back his accusation at Tuesday’s hearing.
     “You’re telling the court that you can lie to the court and not expect any sanctions?” Hanen asked Gilligan.
     “No sir… That is not what we are saying,” the attorney replied.
     “What is appropriate sanctions if one side is not telling the truth to the other side?” Hanen pressed, drawing stutters then silence from Gilligan. “You’re not going to answer the question… Was it true or not?”
     “It was not true. But not the intended meaning of the individuals that made the statement,” Gilligan said.
     “How many misstatements does it take to qualify for a sanction?” Hanen asked.
     “It’s not how many times, but rather what was the intent of those individuals,” Gilligan replied.
     Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is a program the Department of Homeland Security started in 2012 and expanded in November 2014 to increase the number of people eligible and the term of deferred deportation for immigrants who qualify from two to three years.
     Hanen issued an injunction on Feb. 16, 2015, blocking expanded DACA just days before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services planned to start taking applications.
     Hanen said in his sanctions order that Justice Department attorneys lied to him that Citizenship and Immigration Services hadn’t issued any three-year permits under the new DACA guidelines, when in fact they had granted more than 100,000.
     The judge ordered the Justice Department to file under seal by June 10 the personal information of 50,000 undocumented immigrants who were granted three-year DACA permits from Nov. 20, 2014 to March 3, 2015, and who live in one of the 26 plaintiff states.
     “This list should include all personal identifiers and locators including names, addresses, ‘A’ file numbers and all available contact information, together with the date the three-year renewal or approval was granted. This list shall be separated by individual plaintiff state,” Hanen wrote.
     The American Civil Liberties Union and National Immigration Law Center asked the Fifth Circuit on Friday to stay the order on behalf of four DACA recipients, two of whom told reporters that the disclosure of their personal information to Hanen would have a chilling effect on immigrant-government relations and could potentially endanger them and their families.
     Gilligan asked Hanen at Tuesday’s hearing what harm the permit mix-up has caused the states.
     The Justice Department said in documents supporting its stay motion that the states have not shown any injury from the expanded DACA permits because “the third year still has not come into effect,” and any harm to the states “ultimately likely would be minimal given the ability of 2012 DACA recipients to request renewal of their terms whether they end after two or three years.”
     The Justice Department also asked the Fifth Circuit to stay the sanctions.
     Hanen’s stay order means the Fifth Circuit does not have to weigh in.
     Hanen indicated Tuesday he’s willing to budge on his order, telling Gilligan, “I want your input as far as sanctions.”
     “Defendants have until July 31, 2016 to file any submission they wish as to an appropriate sanction for the misrepresentations which were the subject of this Court’s May 19, 2016 order,” the docket states.
     On Monday, a Democratic congressman from Brownsville, Filemon Bartolome Vela Jr., took a stance against Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s plan to deport an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
     “‘Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass,” Vela said in an open letter, which was issued in both English and Spanish.

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