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Federal judge Stops Obama's executive order on immigration

February 17, 2015

A federal court late Monday blocked an executive order by President Barack Obama that would have granted relief from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants.

Gov. Greg Abbott sued the federal government on Dec. 3 while he was the state's attorney general, leading what would become a 26-state coalition opposed to Obama's order. (Watch that Dec. 3 announcement here: "The president's executive order, and the actions of federal agencies to implement that executive order, directly violate a fundamental promise to the American people.")

The ruling by Brownsville federal judge Andrew S. Hanen prevents all applicable agencies from implementing any expansions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Hours after the ruling, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest issued a statement saying the Justice Department would appeal Hanen's decision.

"The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws-which is exactly what the president did when he announced commonsense policies to help fix our broken immigration system. Those policies are consistent with the laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as five decades of precedent by presidents of both parties who have used their authority to set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws," Earnest said in his statement.

"The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts, and the district court in Washington, D.C., have determined that the President's actions are well within his legal authority," Earnest said. "Top law enforcement officials, along with state and local leaders across the country, have emphasized that these policies will also benefit the economy and help keep communities safe. The district court's decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision."

The extended program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, aimed to protect from deportation about 4 million immigrants who are the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. It would also allow them to work legally in the country.

An additional million unauthorized immigrants also would have been shielded through other parts of the plan.

Obama had said the program would not constitute a path to citizenship.

The ruling states the injunction will remain in place until a ruling from the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals or if the Obama administration successfully argues otherwise.

The injunction comes two days before applications for consideration to the program could have been filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Abbott issued the following statement after learning of the ruling:

"President Obama abdicated his responsibility to uphold the United States Constitution when he attempted to circumvent the laws passed by Congress via executive fiat, and Judge Hanen's decision rightly stops the president's overreach in its tracks. We live in a nation governed by a system of checks and balances, and the president's attempt to by-pass the will of the American people was successfully checked today.'"

Abbott's successor, Attorney General Ken Paxton, also praised Hanen's ruling.

"This decision is a victory for the rule of law in America and a crucial first step in reining in President Obama's lawlessness," Paxton said. "The president's action, both unilateral and unconstitutional, was an affront to everyone pursuing a life of freedom and opportunity in America the right way. This injunction makes it clear that the president is not a law unto himself, and must work with our elected leaders in Congress and satisfy the courts in a fashion our Founding Fathers envisioned."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Abbott's predecessor as attorney general, concurred.

"Today's ruling reinforces what I and many others have been saying for a long time: that President Obama acted outside the law when he went around Congress to unilaterally change our nation's immigration laws," Cornyn said. "Today's victory is an important one, but the fight to reverse the president's unconstitutional overreach is not over. The president must respect the rule of law and fully obey the court's ruling."

Joining Texas in the lawsuit were: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

In Texas, about 743,000 people would have been able to apply for temporary relief from deportation.

Obama's executive order ended the Secure Communities program, a controversial program in which empowered local authorities to detain undocumented immigrants for nonviolent offenses. Locally, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton has faced criticism for his participation in the program.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has supported the executive order, joining a filing by several police chiefs in major cities that stated it would help officer interactions with immigrant communities.

Texas Democrats and a variety of progressive groups condemned Hanen's ruling and said they hoped and expected it would be overturned.

"We are very disappointed by Judge Andrew Hanen's ruling; however, we remain optimistic that higher courts will rule in favor of keeping families together," said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. "For decades, our broken immigration system has torn Texas families apart, and tied the hands of our businesses and business leaders, who agree that immigration reform is badly needed. Comprehensive immigration reform is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and would lift millions of undocumented workers out of the underground economy."

Joaquin Guerra, political director of the Texas Organizing Project, characterized the judge's decision as "a temporary setback and it does not change the fact that the president's executive order is a victory for immigrant families."

"What is disappointing is that Gov. Abbott put Texas on the same footing with Arizona's notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his cheap political stunts," Guerra said. "No longer can Texas and the Texas GOP say that we're not like Arizona or Alabama when it comes to attacking Latinos and immigrants."

"Meanwhile, we will continue getting immigrants ready to apply for administrative relief through workshops and media outreach," Guerra said. "Working Texans have been waiting for this opportunity for too long, and we don't want this temporary setback to discourage people."

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